Disease prevention should also focus on plant, animal and environmental health

The concept of “One health” has been gradually gaining ground in the last few years. When we talk of One Health, it includes plants, animals, environment and humans. One Health recognizes that the health of the people is connected to the health of animals, plants and the environment that we all share.

About 60% diseases in humans and 75% of emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic in nature and are spread from animals to humans. Nipah is an emerging disease. Many re-emerging diseases such as avian influenza are also transmitted from animals to humans. Animals are also susceptible to some diseases and environment hazards similar to humans. Hence, they may also be early warning signs of impending human illness. For example, birds often die of West Nile virus before humans are afflicted with the same infectious disease.

Zoonotic diseases should be identified at their animal source itself and acted upon at that point of time in the cycle. And, instead of considering a human patient as the index case, the infected animal should be the index case. Why should disease be allowed to spread from plants, animals or the environment to humans? Why should pollution be allowed to increase to hazardous levels of 1000 and even beyond?

So, when we talk of prevention, we should also talk about preventing diseases in plants, animals and the environment. This requires a new definition of primordial prevention, which has traditionally focused on preventing the emergence of risk factors that have not yet appeared in the given population. This definition should now change to also include the social and environmental factors that contribute to the disease risk. Caring for the health of animals is the first important step in preventing zoonoses in humans.

The health of humans, animals, plants and the environment has been traditionally managed separately. “One health”, on the other hand, considers them as one.

Working in isolation would not address these issues effectively. This calls for an interdisciplinary collaborative approach involving doctors, veterinarians and all public health departments. All should work together. Maulana Azad Medical College (MAMC) is coming up with a new Dept. of Occupational and Environment Health. It is time for all Community Medicine departments to also establish a “Dept. of One Health”.

The budget allocated for health for each separately should instead be constituted into one health budget. The coordination of all four ministries should be integrated into one common coordinating center. This is what “one health” was meant to be.

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