In a world speeding toward globalization and modernization, the power of connectedness across the globe unfortunately does not come without drawbacks. Improvements in transportation connect different cultures and regions but also increase the potential for infectious diseases to spread and leave a larger impact. In addition, rapid advances in the agriculture industry increase the possibility of new infectious diseases to cross species and influence both other animals and humans. About 61 percent of known diseases can infect multiple species of animals, and 75 percent of diseases that have emerged in the last twenty years originated from wildlife . Considering the complex relationship between wild animals, domestic animals/livestock, and humans, an equally complex and holistic methodology is required to combat today’s diseases.
The One Health Approach, which is gaining popularity and respect within the scientific community, recognizes the interconnectedness between the health of humans, animals and the environment. Scientific endeavors using this mindset incorporate information and views from several different fields, such as human medicine, veterinary science and ecology, pooling together data and ideas to form novel solutions to complex problems. Understanding that global health is not limited to scientific factors, the One Health approach also stresses the importance of social, political, cultural and economic determinants on health issues and brings in professionals in these areas to address crises.
In addition to providing a more holistic view of health, the One Health approach maximizes the impact that relief efforts from other countries can have on communities. Acknowledging the cultural differences around the world and tailoring healthcare efforts to specific areas will prevent well-intentioned plans from negatively impacting a local community who may be culturally opposed to a certain treatment or may rely heavily on factors such as livestock for food and money, making treatment/prevention of diseases that cross species more complicated.
While the impact that One Health collaboration can have is astronomical, the approach does not always appear practical. In order for experts across fields to communicate, they must be willing to resolve their differences and view issues from another professional’s perspective. It can also be hard for members of a One Health effort to truly grasp the vast amount of information about an issue that is gathered. In addition to the volume of information, professionals in a given field are often familiar with a specific set of jargon that leads to misunderstanding and frustration across different areas of expertise.
Despite the costs associated with the One Health approach, it is crucial that professionals continue to strive toward such efforts and develop strategies for overcoming the challenges associated with transdisciplinary collaboration. For example, learning networks, or structures for sharing knowledge and skills, are employed to allow rapid transfer of information between professionals and will likely become vital for One Health projects in the future. These learning networks often take the form of informal dialogue/communication, such as through workshops or online chats. Such resources help expose experts to the vast breadth of information available about a topic in a less intimidating and more manageable format. In addition to learning networks, citizens can lobby for more research grants to be given for projects that utilize the One Health perspective, giving experts the monetary resources they need to put such learning networks into practice.
Like any process that involves communication, the One Health approach is a work in progress. Both professionals and the public must strive towards opening their minds to new perspectives on problems and weighing the voices of all disciplines in order to see the big picture and thus leave a big impact through relief and prevention efforts. By developing strategies for communication across disciplines, the process will require less resources going forward and cement key connections that may need to be utilized later, be it for a human disease pandemic, agricultural/livestock crisis, or environmental disaster.
Kate Lee is a contributor to The Daily Campus opinion section. She can be reached via email at Katherine.firstname.lastname@example.org.