5th International One Health Congress – a reflection

On 22nd – 25th June, experts from a diverse range of specialities and members of the public came together at the 5th International One Health Congress in Saskatoon, Canada, to discuss the One Health agenda. Here, I discuss some of the themes that were raised during the meeting.

One Health regards the health of humans, animals and the environment as being interconnected, so when we look at human health we must also consider animal and environmental health too.

As may be expected from such a broad concept as One Health, discussion during the congress covered a range of subjects such as vaccines, antimicrobial resistance, biodiversity, disease eradication and bio-threats. However, there were three common themes that permeated through all subjects: community, communication and collaborative action.

Community

You cannot achieve the goals of One Health without the support and participation of communities. The congress, organized by the One Health Platform, placed significant emphasis on working with communities – and under-served communities in particular.

Animals are important to all communities, whether as livestock, pets or wildlife, and understanding the cultural significant of animals to different communities is vital, for example, to control outbreaks. As many health agencies have discovered, if you set out to control outbreaks by culling infected animals, you are likely to come across resistance from the public – especially if the animal is held in special reverence.

Take the problem of human and bovine tuberculosis in India, a nation where cows are culturally revered. The disease passes from cows to humans and vice versa, since the two populations live close to each other. Vivek Kapur from Penn State University stated that approximately 500,000 people die from tuberculosis in India. Yet culling infected cows (of which there are an estimated 21.8 million infected animals) is not even an option for disease management, so vaccination is the preferred option.

Communication

Working with communities (and indeed any group) requires communication, and One Health is a complex concept to understand. How then do you convey the One Health message successfully to your audience? And what platform do you use?

Social media is becoming recognized as a useful tool to reach certain age groups, as Megan Lesley Moore (University of Saskatchewan) explains of her research into how the antimicrobial resistance message can be conveyed better on Twitter. You can improve the impact of a tweet by including appropriate videos and images, and help get the message across to a non –specialist audience.

On the other hand, social media can be misused to spread false information. One Health campaigners can fight back though…

Nobel laureate Peter Doherty announced that ‘communication is everything’ to sum up his keynote lecture. To illustrate his point, Peter spoke of the increase in people opting not to vaccinate their children. This is just one example of when public misconceptions has worked against disease control. He suggests that scientists use platforms, such as TheConversation to convey One Health messages in an accessible and accurate manner. [Editor’s note: you can also write for BugBitten blog]

Education of communities – whether it’s the public, farmers or health professionals – is a means to empower them to champion the One Health concept. Illustrations, presentations, comics and short videos have proven successful in this, but as Helen Scott Orr (Inspector General of Biosecurity, Australia) stressed when presenting on the rabies outbreak in Indonesia, that education should be ongoing, reinforced and introduced to school curricula.

Collaborative action

Seeing as One Health is a joint approach to solving global health issues, it is fitting that everyone at the meeting called for collaborative action going forth, and encouraged everyone to play their part whether at a local, regional, national or global level.

To this end, the One Health Platform are putting together a ‘call to action’ White paper, outlining key areas for the One Health community to work towards before the next meeting in June 2020. The aim is to publish the White paper in time for One Health Day (3rd November) in One Health Outlook.

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