The 'One Health' concept that integrates the state of the environment, and both animal and human health, is gaining momentum as international organisations put their weight behind it and scientists publish supporting papers.
In the 21st Century disease prevention must be a global endeavour according to the One Health model. Issues such as the international spread of infectious diseases like the H5N1 virus, as well as worldwide toxic contamination of the environment, mean that protection of human health is no longer a local issue and requires international cooperation.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) states that the purpose of One Health is to "Seek to attain optimal health for people and animals by promoting global collaboration between human and veterinary medicine while engaging the principles of public health and ecosystem health." On their website dedicated to One Health the CDC goes on to explain that "Greater progress in prevention and control of infectious diseases requires a more directed effort focusing on the complex interplay between human health, the health of animals, and the environment."
To this end there is a huge effort underway involving governments and both national and international health agencies and organisations, although the public could be forgiven for being unaware of this. It is however a very admirable project, which if it proceeds as planned, will save many lives during the current century.
Recent developments under the One Health umbrella include a task force launched by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) in July of this year.
In a press release the UNEP stated that "Changing ecological, agricultural, and climatic conditions have the potential to increase health risks to wildlife, livestock and people through the infectiousness of germs, which cross into new species." The Scientific Task Force on Wildlife Diseases promises to use an integrative approach based on the One Health framework to most effectively manage the ecosystem and manage the spread of infectious diseases through the food chain due to migratory animals and international food exports.
Scientists and organisations are now becoming aware that the One Health concept can be applicable not just to infectious diseases but also to those related to chemical and toxic exposures in the environment that result in animal and human disease. A paper published this month in the Journal of Medical Toxicology by a CDC scientist looks at this issue in detail. The author's conclusion is that "An appropriate One Health approach in toxicology and environmental health in outbreak settings should include consideration of the common environments and food sources shared by humans and animals and consideration of the potential for contaminated animal products as food sources in human exposures."
It is heartening to see moves away from traditional highly compartmentalised models of health and disease towards the much more holistic and integrative approach of the One Health paradigm, which makes clear sense in todays highly industrialised and global society.
Sources: United Nations Environment Program (2011) A One Health approach addresses wildlife, ecosystem and human health issues (Online) Last accessed 12/08/11 at http://www.cms.int/news/PRESS/nwPR2011/07_jul/wildlife_ecosystem_human_health.pdf
Buttke DE (2011) Toxicology, Environmental Health, and the "One Health" Concept Journal of Medical Toxicology [Epub ahead of print] PMID: 21818691