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FAO in One Health: working proactively instead of reactively

The current approaches to animal disease prevention and control emphasize transmission disruption. Whilst critically important, this approach in itself does not address the root causes of disease emergence. To better comprehend disease emergence at its most fundamental level, there is a need to understand the key drivers of disease emergence.

Changing the emerging disease dynamics at the driver level with the aim to counter the progressive flare-ups of diseases arising at the human-animal-ecosystems interface requires reassessment of traditional prevention and control approaches and global health security strategies; along with renovation of multiple aspects at the technical, social, and institutional levels.

At the technical level, we confront three sets of drivers corresponding broadly with three sets of disease (re-)emergence. First, globalization, land usage, and climatic changes are mostly implicated when diseases invade a novel territory or geographic area, often with identical host ecology and involving relatively minor changes in pathogen characteristics.

Second, disease emergence is facilitated by mass rearing of animals as seen during intensification of animal agriculture. The high numbers of animals per farms and per units, and the geographic clustering of industrial production plants provide fertile grounds for pathogens to turn more host-aggressive, enhancing both disease spread and persistence.

Third, there is disease emergence associated with interspecies jumps of pathogens with pandemic potential. This often concerns wildlife living in natural ecosystems, and results from human and livestock encroachment of forests and game reserves, exploitation of wildlife for food and recreation, degradation of rich ecosystems, and expansion of urban cities.

At the social level, different stakeholders have different concerns regarding food safety, health, security, and wellbeing. Poor people are primarily concerned with existing disease burdens, which are considered more important than pandemic risks. Disease impacts are complex and vary between stakeholders, including disruptions to financial, human, natural, and physical assets.

At the institutional level, broadening health management and creating more disease resilient landscapes goes beyond the remits of veterinarians and physicians. Credible efforts towards sustainable agriculture and rural development, environmental stewardship, and socioeconomic progress entails involvement of many professionals, requiring a major shift in terms of fostering alliances and partnerships.

Because disease emergence can no longer be seen in isolation, it must now be viewed alongside a continuum of climatic changes, natural resource management, agricultural intensification, land utilization patterns, and trade globalization. ‘One Health’ is a viable approach to address the multidimensional challenges that are rapidly evolving in a changing world.

The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) based in Rome, Italy, is teaming up with the World Health Organization (WHO), and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) to jointly pursue the ‘One Health’ approach. Evidently, FAO recognizes that global health and food security form twin objectives.