Botswana spearheads One Health Initiative: a collaborative effort to transform public and environmental health

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Botswana has embarked on the implementation of the One Health (OH) initiative in a strategic move to bolster public health and environmental well-being. This transformational endeavour is rooted in the Libreville Declaration on health and environment, an all-encompassing policy framework designed to address the critical nexus between environmental factors, human health and ecosystem integrity.

At the helm of this ambitious undertaking is the dedicated country coordinator, Botswana University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (BUAN), an esteemed partner of the Capacitating One Health in eastern and southern Africa (COHESA) project which is being led by Flora Meulenberg. This partnership recently took a momentous step by collaborating with the Country Coordinating Committee (CCC) under the support of the Botswana Public Health Institute (BPHI). The primary objective of this partnership was to validate the OH baseline study and to conduct an in-depth situational analysis and needs assessment for the Libreville Declaration.

The CCC is a formidable coalition comprising of 17 diverse institutions, including government departments across 10 ministries, academia, and parastatals. Together, they are poised to bring about a transformative change in the OH sphere.

The genesis of this extraordinary journey traces back to a meeting in the office of Lebapotswe Tlale, the director of the Botswana Public Health Institute (BPHI). In a meeting including his colleagues and luminaries in their field, Kutlo Macheke, Flora Meulenberg and Moatlhodi Kgosimore, BUAN outlined the challenges plaguing the OH initiative. These included sluggish progress in the OH baseline study, the intricate net-mapping exercise, and the long-anticipated national OH bridging workshop. These concerns needed urgent action.

In a remarkable turn of events, BPHI extended its support and vowed to assist BUAN in planning these crucial workshops. This commitment breathed new life into the initiative and sparked a renewed sense of hope and determination. Thato Sengwaketse from the Ministry of Health (MoH) emerged as the linchpin in this collaborative effort, serving as the liaison between BUAN and the MoH/BPHI. This appointment marked a crucial step in ensuring effective coordination.

A few weeks later, a virtual meeting brought together BUAN, BPHI, MoH, and the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development (CIRAD) through Alexandre Caron, the country coordinator. The meeting brimmed with enthusiasm, and in one of its most significant outcomes was to set a date for the OH baseline study validation workshop.

The momentum behind Botswana's OH initiative surged forward as the country continued to embrace the principles outlined in the Libreville Declaration on health and environment. This transformative policy framework, which addressed the crucial intersection of human health and environmental integrity, reached a significant milestone during the Situational Analysis and Needs Assessment (SANA) workshop held in Palapye from 24-29 September 2023.

In a highlight of the workshop, the COHESA baseline study findings were validated—a critical step in the OH journey. On the inaugural day of SANA Caron took the stage and delivered an impactful presentation titled ‘COHESA Project, Presentation, and Opportunities for Botswana OH: Overview of One Health and OH Joint Plan of Action.’ This comprehensive overview shed light on the vast potential and opportunities ahead for Botswana.

Botswana OH
Alexandre Caron giving an overview of One Health at the baseline study validation and Libreville Declaration SANA workshop in Palapye, Botswana

In parallel, another enlightening presentation unfolded as an FAO consultant shared views on the OH strategy tailored for Botswana. This dual presentation laid the groundwork for a collective vision that would redefine the nation's approach to health and the environment.

This monumental workshop received crucial support from the MoH, CIRAD and COHESA Botswana, underlining their unwavering commitment to the OH cause. These organizations recognized the profound importance of this initiative and rallied behind its objectives.

One health
Letlhogile Modisa making a presentation on the need for a OH strategy for Botswana

During the FAO consultant's presentation, Letlhogile Modisa, a notable figure in the field, underscored the significance of their efforts by stating, "Whatever we are doing related to OH is preservation of mankind." He also pointed out a critical finding from the latest Joint External Evaluation (JEE) and Performance of Veterinary Services (PVS), which was that Botswana was in dire need of policies linked to OH.

The collaborative efforts between BUAN and BPHI have unlocked new avenues for progress. As a result of this growing partnership, a OH net-mapping initiative which shall identity important stakeholders and their roles is now firmly on the agenda, scheduled for April 2024. This strategic move is expected to yield instrumental efforts and drive the OH initiative to even greater heights.

In her closing remarks, Meulenberg expressed her gratitude to the MoH for including COHESA Botswana in the program. She also underscored the importance of the OH initiative, stating that ‘the Libreville Declaration is strong on human and environmental health, however, I think we are all in agreement that issues concerning animals (both domestic and wild) are equally important and should also be at the forefront.’ Her words emphasized the holistic approach that the OH initiative aims to achieve.

One Health
The lead multiplier Flora Pule-Meulenberg giving closing remarks at the Libreville Declaration SANA workshop (Photo credit: Moatlhodi Kgosimore)

As the SANA workshop concluded, it left no doubt that Botswana's dedication to the OH initiative was unwavering. The nation's journey towards a healthier, more sustainable future had gained fresh impetus and set the stage for transformative change.