FAO as One Health: Moving Forward
In the interconnected world in which we are currently living it is no longer sensible to talk about health in isolation. The health of humans, animals, and ecosystems is tightly interconnected as the growing human population and the rapid urbanization is pushing people closer to previously untouched environments; with increasing demands for energy and natural resources.
Similarly, rising incomes and globalized trade is placing pressure on crop and food production systems to satisfy the growing demand for cereals, legumes, vegetables, fruits, and high-quality animal proteins that more affluent and urban social groups around the world are increasingly demanding.
In addition, changing agro-ecological conditions, intensification of food production systems, and expanding local and global trade, has increased the likelihood of animal and plant diseases and pests to emerge and spread farther and faster than before, and for unsafe food to reach numerous consumers in distant markets.
Also, consideration needs to be given to transnational developments taking place around the globe; for example, climate change or threats from civil instabilities. Few disagree that our world is now witnessing the effects of atmospheric changes in terms of higher temperatures, increased rainfalls, and frequent natural disasters.
The emergence of Brazil, China, India, and Russia, as well as of other transition economies is signaling a new era, one in which issues related to economic growth, economic and food security, rural development, poverty alleviation, and hunger mitigation are addressed concurrently.
In the past decades, the world has been exposed to new threats and hazards. Some of these lie in animals and plants, some in humans, and others in ecosystems.
For instance, in animals we can recall the high-profile cases of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy in cattle in the United Kingdom, SARS in China and Canada, or Ebola Reston virus found in pigs in Southeast Asia. Also, more recently, we witnessed outbreaks of Porcine Reproductive and Respiratory Syndrome in China and Viet Nam, Monkey Pox in the United States, Nipah virus in Malaysia and Bangladesh, and Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza H5N1 on three continents, followed closely by the worldwide spread of Pandemic Influenza H1N1 in 2009.
Fish, mollusks, and crustaceans are, of course, also animals. And in some of these aquatic species we have white spot in shrimp, koi herpes virus, and viral hemorrhagic septicemia, to name a few.
Similarly, crops and plants are attacked by pests and diseases that seriously impact food production and food availability: wheat rust Ug99 spread to Central Asia and northern India, and one of the most insidious migratory pests: Locust in Africa, Asia, and Europe. Also, food safety is becoming an increasingly serious issue due to a more globalized trade, as previously mentioned.
Humans also are important disease and pest carriers. All of us are familiar with seasonal influenza. But there are other diseases still claiming lives all around the world. Some examples include HIV/AIDS, malaria, measles, smallpox, polio, mumps, and common diarrheas.
Last, but not least, we have threats in our environments ranging from air and water pollution, inorganic waste, ocean contamination, and also some very new diseases which were not known to us. For example, scientific research has discovered that exotic bats and jungle rats can transmit debilitating diseases to animals and human.
With changes in climate, we are expecting that certain parasites, viruses, and bacteria or their vectors will find new ecosystems in which to flourish. To sum up, the demographic explosion, the closer we get to each other and, to our environments, the more exposed we are to risks, threats, and hazards that impact our health and livelihoods. Simply put, everything is connected to everything else.
The concepts behind One Health need to be examined through the lens of individuals, households, societies, states, regions, and continents. There is no more reason to view health as separate compartments. Health is to be seen together, in conjunction with all living species, integrated to our surrounding, our foods, livelihoods, and our daily lifestyles.
In equal measure, dealing with health does not stop at delivering medications or responding to crises. It goes far beyond that. We need to talk about nutrition, about political, economic, cultural, social, scientific, technological, legal, and ecological impacts and linkages.
To this end, AGA organized a workshop on 4-6 May in Rome to stimulate thinking within FAO and to reach a consensus about integrating health into one approach.