Funding and Education Are Key to Effective Implementation of ‘One Health’ Agenda
The Geneva Health Forum opened with a panel discussion on, “One Health: is there a paradigm shift?” From left: Andrea Sylvia Winkler, Peter Ben Embarek, Lisa Crump, Jean Philippe Dop and Keith Sumption.
The Geneva Health Forum opened with a panel discussion on “One Health: is there a paradigm shift?” From left: Andrea Sylvia Winkler, Peter Ben Embarek, Lisa Crump, Jean Philippe Dop and Keith Sumption.

More accessible funding will be required for the international community to implement a broad One Health approach, scientist Lisa Crump of the UN Environmental Program (UNEP) told Health Policy Watch on Tuesday.

Speaking on the sidelines of the Geneva Health Forum’s (GHF) kick-off discussion, “One Health: is there a paradigm shift?” Crump said that “we need ways to get funding so that it is easy to access. We have some very old ways of releasing funds and they are not reactive or responsive, and that is what we need”.

“We need to make funding more accessible, make more of it and put fewer strings on it,” she continued. “It has to make economic sense. Or at least there has to be some benefit. It can be economic savings or it can be improved health or increased ecosystem resilience. It is not always money. But it takes money to figure out what is going to work and we cannot ignore that fact.”

Crump was one of four panellists who spoke during the session. The others included Jean Philippe Dop of the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), Keith Sumption of the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and Peter Ben Embarek of the World Health Organization (WHO). The session was moderated by Andrea Sylvia Winkler of the Center for Global Health at the Technical University of Munich and the Centre for Global Health at the University of Oslo.

More than 1,000 people attended the forum on Tuesday and almost as many were watching a selection of sessions that were aired virtually.

The concept of One Health is a big focus of the GHF after decades of the topic being consigned to the margins of health agendas. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of a holistic approach to health across species as the virus was most likely to have been transmitted to humans from a bat, via infected mammals housed and slaughtered in unsanitary conditions at a marketplace in Wuhan, China.

“The COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the intimate links between health, humans, animals and our environment,” stressed WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in a video message to the conference. “Reducing future pandemics demands closer collaboration across sectors.”

Around 60% of known infectious diseases and as many as 75% of new or emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic in origin. As a result, the One Health approach is receiving broad support from the WHO, FAO, OIE and, most recently, UNEP – together, formally known as the Quadripartite.

One Health was defined in December 2021 by the inter-agency One Health High-Level Expert Panel (OHHLEP) as “an integrated, unifying approach that aims to sustainably balance and optimize the health of people, animals and ecosystems. It recognizes the health of humans, domestic and wild animals, plants, and the wider environment (including ecosystems) are closely linked and inter-dependent.”

Tuesday’s GHF session marked the first time that all four lead technical focal points of the quadripartite organizations have appeared together in a public forum to discuss the changing One Health landscape.

Common sense has come to the political arena

Ben Embarek explained that the biggest shift he has seen since COVID-19 is that now politicians and government officials are buying into One Health, too.

“When common sense comes into the political arena, that is where things start changing,” he said. “When we have heads of states talking about One Health, this is a shift for sure.”

Dop expressed similar sentiments, noting the involvement of these decision-makers in the One Health agenda as “a good effect of the pandemic, if there can be one”. And he said that this involvement will play a key role in being able to implement One Health concepts aligned by professors and doctors in academia in the field.

Another shift is the new and formal involvement of UNEP, with Crump saying that her organisation is ready to “mobilize our assets and partnerships to support a One Health approach”.

The UNEP has already helped establish a multi-partner trust seeded with €50 million to enhance countries’ investments in nature with the goal of stopping pandemics. Those funds will also go for working towards establishing four outcomes: providing multidisciplinary evidence on the links between biodiversity, climate change and health; enhancing One Health preventative actions and policies; providing target-specific capacity building and knowledge management, advocacy and awareness-raising programs on those links; and to create sustainable One Health collaborations with government structures.

Having UNEP involved in a greater capacity should also enable the team to focus more on issues such as soil, water and other environmental factors that play a role in health and wellbeing, said Sumption. He expects new opportunities from environmental ministries monitoring for pathogens to ecosystem restoration and biodiversity maintenance.

“There are hundreds of thousands of people whose livelihoods depend on forests so we need sustainable wildlife management in those settings,” Sumption stressed.

Food and Agriculture Organization Director-General QU Dongyu address the One Health opening session via video.
Food and Agriculture Organization Director-General Qu Dongyu addressed the One Health opening session via video.

‘Widening the perspective of students’

But the key to the future is educating the younger generation to take a One Health approach from the onset of their careers, said Ben Embarek.

He addressed students and teachers and called on them to break down silos in their universities from the podium.

“It is widening the perspective of students in the existing silos,” Ben Embarek told Health Policy Watch after the session. For example, he said, “medical students should be exposed to what vets are doing and what is happening out there in the environment so that they will get a better perspective and that they will see that the health of humans is connected to all of these things.”

At the same, he noted, while vets might be focused on producing healthy animals, at some point, someone is going to eat these animals and those who are going to do so should not die from eating them.

“It is important to not only protect the animals from animal disease but also to protect animals from pathogens that will affect humans,” Ben Embarek continued, “It is really about exposing students and including in their curriculum the perspectives that exist in other sectors, and understanding that some of the issues they are trained to solve in the future will depend on the health and actions of other sectors.

“So, when they are in these positions later on in life it will be easier to understand what others are doing, why they are doing it and how to change.”

This is part of a Health Policy Watch series of stories on feature themes at the 2022 Geneva Health Forum. Supported by a grant from the Canton of Geneva.

Image Credits: Maayan Hoffman.

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