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Developing One Health

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EIGHT years ago The Veterinary Record and BMJ published a joint issue exploring ways in which the veterinary and medical professions could collaborate more for everyone's benefit. Things have moved on since then and the One Health concept seems to be gaining ground. But are they moving quickly enough, and to what extent has the concept taken hold? Over the next 12 months, Veterinary Record will be publishing a series of articles examining these questions and giving examples of One Health in action. The aim will be to foster a wider appreciation of the potential benefits of One Health and encourage its application.

Appropriately, the series begins with an article by Paul Gibbs, of the University of Florida. Professor Gibbs gave the plenary Wooldridge Memorial Lecture at the 2005 BVA Congress, which was subsequently published in the joint issue (VR, November 26, 2005, vol 157, pp 673-679). In his lecture, he explained how a series of disasters, both natural and man-made, had shattered late 20th century assumptions that diseases were under control and argued that new, multidisciplinary approaches were needed to deal with them. In his article in the current issue (see pp 85-91), which in some ways can be regarded as an update, he explains how One Health has evolved in recent years and highlights some challenges for the future. Most pertinently, given that much of the current interest has been driven by concerns about highly pathogenic avian influenza and other disease threats, he asks whether it will turn out that One Health represents ‘a short-lived response to a spate of emerging diseases that apparently threatened to engulf the world in the first few years of the 21st century, or a paradigm shift that will lead to a wide and deep-rooted commitment to interdisciplinary action for the protection and needs of society’. Given the nature of some current challenges, one must hope it is the latter.

One Health potentially has much wider application than in dealing with zoonotic diseases more effectively, although even this potential has still to be fully realised. Other articles planned for the series will consider topics such as emerging diseases and disease surveillance, comparative medicine, the human-animal bond, rabies and other neglected diseases, the role of One Health in international development, and food security and protecting the food chain. This list is by no means exclusive, and we would welcome suggestions for further articles. In the meantime, although there are clearly exceptions, it seems fair to say that, so far, the One Health concept has been more enthusiastically embraced in the veterinary profession than in the medical profession; another article in the series, giving a medical perspective, will consider possible reasons for this and how the problem might be addressed.

One Health is not just a matter of the veterinary and medical professions working together more closely, although that in itself would be helpful. As pointed out at last year's congress of the World Veterinary Association, the nature of today's challenges requires input from specialists from a wide range of disciplines, including, for example, entomologists, climatologists and ecologists, engineers, social scientists and economists (VR, September 28, 2013, vol 173, p 278). There may be a danger, as Professor Gibbs alludes to, that, unless the concept is more precisely defined, it could come to mean all things to all people. On the other hand, it could be argued that that might not matter too much so long as an appropriate multidisciplinary response is instituted.

Despite such concerns, there seems little doubt that the One Health concept is gathering momentum. The past few months have seen, for example, a new UK strategy on antimicrobial resistance from the Department of Health and Defra, which highlights the importance of a One Health approach (VR, September 21, 2013, vol 173, p 254); a tripartite statement on rabies from the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and the World Health Organization (WHO) emphasising that mass vaccination of dogs is critical to programmes aimed at preventing the disease in people (VR, September 28, 2013, vol 173, p 279); and, most recently, a document from the FAO calling for a ‘paradigm shift’ in approaches to global health (VR, January 18, 2014, vol 174, p 55). This is in addition to numerous other developments in recent years. One of the aims of Veterinary Record's series will be to help to ensure that the momentum continues to grow.

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