If you’re bewildered by the term "One Health," you’re not alone. While the use of One Health approaches to solve complex health issues isn’t new, disagreement over a definition has, at times, complicated the concept’s development.
A book recently published by researchers with the University of Calgary Faculty of Veterinary Medicine uses case studies to illustrate the One Health concept — a concept the text describes as “a transdisciplinary approach to the sustainable management of complex health problems arising from the interaction of animals, humans and their environment.”
“We wanted to illustrate the concept of One Health using contemporary case studies from our collaborative research and outreach programs,” says Dr. Susan Cork, a professor and head of the Department of Ecosystem and Public Health, who, along with Drs. David Hall and Karen Liljebjelke, published the multi-author book One Health Case Studies, Addressing Complex Problems in a Changing World.
A case study of the BSE crisis
One such case study is all too familiar to Albertans. It focuses on the BSE (bovine spongiform encephalopathy) or mad cow disease outbreak of 2003, which devastated the province’s beef cattle industry. BSE belongs to a group of neurodegenerative prion diseases that are transmissible and fatal to people and animals. The health and social impacts of the BSE outbreak in the United Kingdom in the late 1980s, and later in Canada, were enormous.
The case study, co-authored by Sabine Gilch, Billie Thurston and Keri Williams, explores the complex issues behind the origin of the disease, its spread and how the outbreak was eventually contained. The study argues that a One Health approach to the BSE crisis “would have included more attention to the families whose livelihoods were affected.”
Now, 14 years later, the authors believe the best way to prevent another BSE outbreak is by having experts from different disciplines sharing their knowledge and working together with community members. “Veterinarians, prion researchers, farmers, farmers’ association representatives, meat producers and human public health practitioners could develop a collaboration to undertake a One Health approach to BSE prevention,” they say.
Benefits of One Health partnerships
The various case studies — including Managing Animal Health in a Changing Arctic written by Dr. Susan Kutz and her research team, and Emerging Markets and Parasitic Diseases written by Brent Dixon — characterize the approach and benefits of One Health partnerships.
“The case studies in the book were selected to demonstrate the One Health approach to an international audience, including colleagues in academia and research institutes, policy-makers in government, research trainees, and community stakeholders interested in working together to address complex problems that impact the environment, human and animal health,” says Cork.
She says there can be serious consequences to not using a One Health approach to address complex local and global health issues. “By neglecting to engage in a One Health approach to risk prevention and management, we jeopardize the health of our communities and the health of our wildlife, livestock and the environment, as we have seen in recent epidemics of emerging infectious disease including highly pathogenic avian influenza and West Nile virus.”