Integrating environmental and ecosystem health into One Health – choices, contexts and communities matter

Pamela Wairagala
Peter Ballantyne
Theo Knight Jones
Alexandre Caron
Subject tag
animal health
capacity development
knowledge and information
News image

Our societies are facing major challenges, many caused by the ever-expanding human footprint on the planet. These challenges, such as ecosystem degradation, food system failures, biodiversity loss, infectious disease emergence, extreme climatic events and antimicrobial resistance, collectively impact on the health of ecosystems, people, animals and plants across the world, with a disproportionate impact in the least-developed countries. 

The One Health approach is seen to deliver collaborative and systemic responses to some of these complex societal threats by promoting more inter-sectoral and inter-disciplinary collaboration across the environment, human, plant and animal health sectors. This is expected to improve the health of humans, animals, plants, and the environment, while contributing to sustainable development.

Most discussions around One Health tend to centre around human and animal health with environmental dimensions rarely unpacked and discussed in detail. In East and Southern Africa, as elsewhere, this is a serious issue as it risks leaving out key actors and agendas, leading to unintended negative outcomes and missed opportunities. 

The members of the One Health ‘Quadripartite’ – the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Organization for Animal Health (WOAH) – that guide the transformations required to mitigate the impact of current and future health challenges at human–animal– plant–environment interfaces, recognize this challenge and have called for the environment to be fully integrated into the One Health approach. While they suggest several ways to do this – such as integrating environmental experts in One Health fora and platforms, incorporating environmental data into One Health decision-making, fostering a better understanding of environmental issues and ecosystem health in the One Health community, and boosting the capacity of the environmental sector and its institutions to have an equal voice at the One Health table and in decision-making – most countries are yet to make strong progress in this area. 

To advance this agenda, the Capacitating One Health in Eastern and Southern Africa (COHESA) project recently brought together representatives of ministries of health, agriculture and the environment, members of country national One Health platforms and academics and international experts in different health components from across the region to brainstorm how best to integrate environment and ecosystem health (EEH) within the wider One Health concept in the 12 project target countries in Eastern and Southern Africa. This effort aligns with the quadripartite Action track 6 of the Joint Plan of Action which identified the need to better ‘integrate the environment into One Health.’ Read more .....