FAO in Geneva

LOGin: Interview with Maria Helena Semedo, FAO Deputy Director-General on the One Health Initiative


LOGin is a feature interview series regularly organized by the FAO Liaison Office in Geneva (LOG). Through LOGin, we meet with FAO’s core leadership and discuss a corporate initiative. This month, we met Maria Helena Semedo, FAO Deputy Director-General, to learn more about FAO’s One Health Initiatives.

1.First of all, what is One Health? And how is food and agriculture a part of the One Health spectrum?

Ms. Semedo: In short, it’s making sure we have healthy people and a healthy planet. Recent global crises like the COVID-19 pandemic, combined with a degrading environment and biodiversity and climate change, have been a huge wake up call to the need for resilient health systems and coordinated global action. The aim of One Health is just that: it is a holistic, integrated, collective approach that looks to sustainably balance and optimize the health of people, animals and ecosystems.

Recognizing the complex interlinkages between humans, animals and plants – and the wider environment - One Health works across sectors, disciplines and communities to foster well-being and tackle threats to health and ecosystems.

Food and agriculture are at the crossroad of people, animal, plant and environmental health. Which is why we need sustainable and resilient agrifood systems. In this regard, One Health relies on a wide spectrum of actors to join forces and work on sustainable agriculture, animal, plant, forest, and aquaculture health, food safety, antimicrobial resistance (AMR), food security, nutrition and livelihoods. This means working to improve early warning systems on animal and plant pests and diseases, strengthening biosecurity for pest and disease management. It means being prepared and ready to respond to emergencies like food-safety issues or other health events.

2. What is FAO doing to integrate the concept of One Health in FAO? Since FAO is also covering a broad mandate, how is the agency working to mainstream One Health in different areas of work?

Ms. Semedo: FAO recognizes that One Health is essential to the transformation to more efficient, inclusive, resilient and sustainable agrifood systems and consequently should be mainstreamed across agrifood sectors.

At corporate level, we have integrated One Health into the current Strategic Framework 2022-2031 as one of the 20 Priority Programme Areas (PPAs) to guide FAO's work and our support to Members. Under the One Health PPA, FAO is implementing projects in many countries and regions to improve agrifood system productivity while promoting global health security by addressing biological threats that emerge at human-animal-plant-environment interfaces.

At a more operational level, our Joint Centre for Zoonotic Diseases and Antimicrobial Resistance coordinates One Health across different FAO divisions to mainstream One Health in FAO activities.

FAO has established the One Health Technical Working Group (OHTWG) involving 18 divisions and workstreams across the Organization at both global and regional levels. Through the OHTWG, we are striving to better share experiences, information and best practices on One Health to support our Members as One FAO.

3. One Health seems like a topic that needs cooperation with other streams of work outside of the organization as well. How is FAO working with other agencies to ensure that?

Ms. Semedo: The success of One Health hinges on well-coordinated collaboration. For this, FAO works closely with the Quadripartite - the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) – that leverages our respective strengths across the human-animal-plant-environment interface and promotes health and sustainable development. I can say that years of close cooperation has put One Health on the global agenda and we are continuing to build momentum to galvanize vital political commitments, greater investment and multi-sectoral collaboration at every level. For example, in consultation with Members, last year the Quadripartite launched the One Health Joint Plan of Action (2022-2026)   to guide countries to better mitigate the impact of current and future health challenges at the human–animal–plant–environment interface.

Fully committed to collectively advocate for and support the implementation of One Health at all levels,  the Quadripartite is currently developing an implementation guide of the Joint Plan of Action which outlines key stages of implementation, including situation analysis and identification of priority activities at all levels. The Quadripartite  recently signed a Call to Action for One Health for a Safer World, stressing the need for enhanced collaboration and commitment to translate the One Health approach into policy action in all countries.

4.Can you share some stories where FAO made meaningful impact in strengthening the One Health approach in countries?

Ms. Semedo: Yes, FAO has been strongly promoting the One Health approach for many years. We have been advocating for increased uptake of One Health by Members to effectively address infectious zoonotic diseases and antimicrobial resistance (AMR).

In this regard, FAO has been implementing initiatives in more than 40 countries in Africa and Asia – and now expanding to Latin America - to build the capacities of the animal health sector for effective prevention, early detection and rapid response to emerging and endemic zoonoses and AMR through the One Health approach. Working with our partners and Members, we have already seen positive impacts by improving the technical capacity of health systems as well as setting up the governance structure for One Health implementation.

FAO also supports the establishment of National One Health Coordination Platforms, helps formulate  One Health policy frameworks that include national One Health strategic plans and action plans), and promotes favorable institutional arrangements needed for One Health governance.

Thanks to the longstanding efforts made by FAO and its partners, the role of adopting One Health is well recognized and is making its way for integration into the international, regional and national health architecture.

5. Are there any exciting One Health events to keep an eye on for 2023?

Ms Semedo: Certainly! The global community celebrates One Health Day on November 3 as an international campaign co-coordinated by the One Health Commission, the One Health Initiative Autonomous pro bono Team and the One Health Platform Foundation. FAO will join the celebrations both across the Organization and as part of the Quadripartite.

FAO will also continue to advocate for the One Health approach during upcoming high-level global events, such as the G20 Summit under India’s presidency and the UN General Assembly High-level Meeting on Pandemic Prevention, Preparedness and Response. Together with the Quadripartite, FAO in Geneva organizes the One Health Dialogue Series to promote the One Health approach in the International Geneva with more to come this year.

All these activities help highlight not only FAO’s commitment to One Health, but also raise awareness, and advocate for One Health with a unified voice around the world. We are certainly excited to continue the work both cross-divisionally and jointly with the Quadripartite for a healthier world for all.