One Health is a concept foreign to many, and yet one that has historically and currently impacted the lives of every population globally. Recognising the interconnection between people, animals, and their shared environment, One Health and its principles have become especially relevant when considering how the pandemic came to fruition; with the virus jumping from its bat host and to find a new home in humankind, to devastating effect.
Every country has shared a commonality, in a shared health threat, yet there is wide variance in the responses initiated by each.
Countries whose governance systems prioritized formal coordination across multiple sectors informed by the One Health approach generally performed better in curbing a virus that crosses disciplines and borders.
Using an institutionalised One Health approach, both the EAC and West Africa have leveraged regional partnerships to fight Covid-19 in Burkina Faso, Liberia, and Rwanda,which have, with scant resources and budget, fared better than the global north.
There is good reason why. In sub-Saharan Africa, zoonotic infections account for 26 per cent of the years of healthy life lost to infectious diseases, and this figure is only set to grow as dense populations collide with the animal world and ecological dynamics as a result of turning forests into land for farming and grazing. These countries have developed frameworks to build resilience to zoonosis and other environmental health threats such as climate change.
In Rwanda, this infrastructure, including a One Health Steering Committee, mobilise experts across disciplines to prepare, coordinate and manage infectious disease outbreaks.
Uganda, has also formalised One Health through their National One Health Platform, a roadmap that translates its long history of zoonotic diseases into a multi-sectoral preparedness and response.
We need practical frameworks to design and implement programmes, policies, legislation and research initiated and adopted at government level, and engaging those at community-level. Communities, particularly in rural settings, are most vulnerable to changes in environmental and animal health.
They are essential to informing One Health policy, and their network vital to putting this into practice.
Governments need to mobilise communities as essential systems of surveilance; for monitoring and communicating changes in animal, human and environmental health as a risk reduction strategy. With local expertise and experience they are able to recognize and act on One Health threats.
When a pastoralist in Tanzania gets brucellosis, they check their livestock to stop the spread. Rwanda has leveraged its network of community health workers, healthcare facilities, rangers, border agents and farmers, as a multidisciplinary approach to monitoring potential zoonotic disease outbreaks.
One Health, when adopted by government, and effectively operationalised at community level is a vital response, recovery and resilience mechanism that has already driven some of the most significant health gains in many LMIC settings.
Now, looking ahead to a post-Covid era, we need to learn from this pandemic and invest in education that builds awareness of One Health principles, and provides practical frameworks with which to implement them on local, national, and global levels.
Dr Phaedra Henley, Chair of the Centre for One Health; Gloria Igihozo, coordinator Centre for One Health; Laura Wotton, communications manager, all at the University of Global Health Equity (UGHE) in Rwanda.