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What is One Health?

The definition of One Health as described by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE):

One Health is an integrated, unifying approach that aims to sustainably balance and optimize the health of people, animals and ecosystems. It recognizes the health of humans, domestic and wild animals, plants, and the wider environment (including ecosystems) are closely linked and inter-dependent.The approach mobilizes multiple sectors, disciplines and communities at varying levels of society to work together to foster well-being and tackle threats to health and ecosystems, while addressing the collective need for clean water, energy and air, safe and nutritious food, taking action on climate change, and contributing to sustainable development.

A classic and simple example of the One Health approach involves diseases that are shared between animals and people, also called zoonotic diseases. Consider the cases of Nipah virus in Bangladesh, which is responsible for hundreds of deaths each year. In order to innovate ideas to prevent this disease, a One Health approach is useful to highlight the areas of interface that lead to an increase in transmission:

  • Fruit bats harbor the Nipah virus pathogen as natural hosts and carry it without any symptoms of infection or illness. In Bangladesh, local fruit bats drink a natural sugary liquid produced by palm trees: the date palm sap.
  • While drinking and feeding on this sap, bat saliva and urine come into contact with the date palm sap and enter the circulation within the tree trunks. These fluids contain the Nipah virus, so now the Nipah virus is circulating within the tree. 
  • Just as the fruit bats, Bangladeshi people also enjoy drinking the sap. When they encroach into the wild bat ecosystems, they inevitably share the same date palm trees. Humans drink date palm sap contaminated with bat fluids infected with Nipah viruses, which can make humans sick.