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Blog Post

'One Health' – Human and Animal Health, Together Again

  • Sindura Ganapathi, Samuel Thevasagayam, Apr 12, 2013

How would the landscape of human and animal health change if we encouraged experts from both fields to collaborate and share knowledge?

We know there is a fundamental overlap between the health of both humans and animals. For instance, around 60 percent of all infectious diseases cross species boundaries, affecting both animals and humans. Additionally, The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) lists livestock as an integral part of global food security – this means that access to healthy livestock is an important piece of ensuring food sources for people around the world.

Especially in the developing world, where human health, livestock health, and people's livelihood are often so closely tied, we should be bridging this divide and working together toward "One Health" for humans and animals. After all, shouldn't human health benefit from what veterinary researchers know and learn, and shouldn't the health of our domestic animals and livestock benefit from what our physicians know and learn?

"One Health" is not a new concept. Until the beginning of the 20th century, human and veterinary medicine were not as distinct disciplines as they are today. Many scientist physicians, whose names we still recognize today, such as Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch, made major discoveries in both human and animal diseases.

Sometimes, these cross-species discoveries were even accidental. For example, in the late 1800s, Christiaan Eijkman, a Dutch physician, noticed that chickens fed polished rice developed symptoms similar to the human disease beriberi. This observation ultimately led to the discovery of vitamin B1 and successful treatment of the human disease.

Unfortunately, these types of broad, cross-species discoveries have diminished in the last century, as human and veterinary medicine have become increasingly specialized and divergent. We believe that progress in both fields may be accelerated if we reignite discussion, collaboration, and discovery across the human and animal health divide.

About the challenge: With our Grand Challenges Explorations topic, The "One Health" Concept: Bringing Together Human and Animal Health for New Solutions, we've put forward a challenge to the human and veterinary health communities--as well as to outsiders and newcomers to these field-- to send us great ideas to advance One Health. We seek ideas along the discovery-development-delivery spectrum that take knowledge and practices in one field and use it to spur advancement in the other field. A few areas of particular interest include:

  • Service delivery. Pastoral families--whose lives and livelihood depend on the health and production of their livestock--place great importance on the health of their animals, providing an avenue for delivery of services to these often difficult-to-reach communities. How might we use these avenues to increase access to human health services?
  • Nutrition. Healthy growth is a key focus for animal husbandry, and the animal husbandry literature is full of data on the role of micronutrients and combinations of micro- and macronutrients as they relate to growth or growth deviation. The whole concept of essential amino acids was recognized and practiced in animal nutrition long before this information transitioned to human nutrition. We believe that we have not realized the full potential of livestock products to address human malnutrition and disease.
  • Metrics. As we begin to more consistently bring together the human and veterinary health communities, leveraging knowledge of diseases, nutrition, and delivery capabilities, we need to develop standard metrics and evaluation methods to measure the success of One Health. We seek your exciting ideas for integrating existing human and animal health standards into a single metric, or for developing an entirely new metric to enable us to evaluate our progress toward One Health.

The concept of One Health is usually presented as a human, animal, and environment triad, so it might surprise some audiences that environment is not mentioned in this call for proposals. Even though we do not explicitly mention an environmental component, we expect that the environmental context will be very important, will apply to both human and animal health, and will likely be an integral part of the puzzle we are trying to solve. Nevertheless, we've focused our call for proposals on livestock and human health.

We hope that this Grand Challenges Explorations application round will bring in revolutionary ideas to build collaborations across human and veterinary medicine, and will ultimately help to deliver solutions to the populations most in need.

What's your big idea to bring us all closer to One Health?

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