One Health approach and intensified collaboration needed to prevent and respond to pandemics

Speaking as current chair of the Tripartite (FAO, OIE and WHO) for One Health, QU Dongyu calls for G20 countries to step-up coordinated action against COVID-19 at Health Ministers Meeting in Rome

5 September 2021, Rome - The world has the opportunity to bolster collective and collaborative methods to prevent future pandemics through a universal, inclusive One Health approach, QU Dongyu, Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), said today at the G20 Health Ministers Meeting held in Rome.

A viable coordinated response to COVID-19 involves intensified collaboration across borders, sectors and disciplines, Qu stressed at the opening of the two days meeting.

He hailed efforts by the G20 Presidency - currently held by Italy - "to ensure that we bring new, realistic and pragmatic solutions to the areas of health and agri-food systems, to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and reach Zero Hunger by 2030."

The Director-General spoke on behalf of FAO and also in his capacity as Chair of the Tripartite for One Health, a consortium also including the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) that advocates for solutions which recognize that the health of people is connected to the health of animals and the environment - the One Health Approach.

The Tripartite considers universality, legitimacy, inclusivity, coherence and accountability as the five cardinal principles for stronger and more sustainable governance and investment into pandemic preparedness and response, he noted.

"We are at a historic turning point to set into motion the steps needed to prevent future pandemics," Qu said, pointing to growing consensus and support by the G20 - whose members represent two-thirds of the world's population and 85 percent of value-added economic activity (GDP) - and also to the urgent need for more investments, especially at the national level. The Tripartite has proposals on how to fund One Health objectives rapidly that can contribute to a joint ministerial meeting of G20 Finance and Health Ministers in October 2021, he added.

A coherent approach

The Director-General emphasized the linkages between agri-food systems and health systems, and noted that the pandemic has disrupted the world's agri-food systems, which are core to all human health and life, in ways that will have long-term impacts.

FAO has responded by designing the COVID-19 Response and Recovery Programme and by expediting implementing the flagship Hand-in-Hand Initiative, which focuses on Small Island Developing States, Least Developed Countries and Land-Locked Developing Countries, all of whom have faced specific challenges over the past year and a half.

The Tripartite has supported the G20 to develop a Call for Action on One Health, as part of its current development of a Global Action Plan for One Health with the guidance of its newly established One Health High-Level Expert Panel (OHHLEP).

"Let's walk the talk," Qu said in his appeal to expedite the move from discussion to on-the-ground practical implementation.

Within the context of One Health, FAO works continually to support Members to prevent, detect and control diseases and related health threats wherever they emerge. This includes monitoring the emergence of antimicrobial resistance, as well as active programmes to combat and eradicate animal and zoonotic diseases.

The One Health approach, accounting for the interconnectivity of humans, animals and the environment is relevant in fighting any threat to agri-food systems and livelihoods. This focus is particularly important in rural farming communities where animals provide transport, fuel and clothing as well as food. Better nutrition, for example, makes obvious contributions to human health and can be linked to land management and farming practices.

"The link between agri-food systems and environmental health, the climate crisis, ecosystem degradation and biodiversity loss must also be highlighted," Qu said.

The G20 meeting

The G20 Health Ministers Meeting will include numerous sessions featuring experts ranging from Peter Doherty, winner of the 1996 Nobel Prize in Medicine for his work in explaining how the immune system recognizes cells infected by viruses, to World Trade Organization (WTO) Director-General Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala.

It is expected, with the Tripartite's participation, to result in a G20 Health Call to Action to bolster One Health resilience, which will build on and steer pledges on equitable vaccine access and efforts to contain antimicrobial resistance (AMR) made in the Rome Declaration by G20 Health Ministers when they met in May 2021.

Photo: ©FAO/Ismahane Elouafi
OIE Director-General Monique Eloit and FAO Director-General QU Dongyu at the G20 Health Ministers Meeting in Rome.