The time is right for ‘One Health’ science-THE HINDU-15-03-2020
As India goes into emergency mode to tackle the potentially catastrophic impacts of the novel coronavirus , the ‘Kerala model’ is being widely cited as an example to emulate. This success has been credited to the strong public health infrastructure and the political will to quickly seek help from a multidisciplinary team of national and international experts. The Kerala Nipah virus outbreak was thought to have come from fruit bats, a group of animals that may also be implicated in other more deadly outbreaks, possibly including the novel coronavirus. These diseases, which “spillover” from animals to humans are referred to as zoonotic diseases, and represent more than 60% of emerging infectious diseases worldwide.
Kyasanur Forest Disease:
Although OneHealth, as a conceptual entity, emerged relatively recently, a stellar example of OneHealth being operationalised in the field was seen in India in the late 1950s. It helped discover the source of Kyasanur Forest Disease , a highly dangerous haemorrhagic fever more threatening than COVID-19. It was locally called ‘monkey fever’ because of the links between monkey deaths and human infections in Shimoga District of Karnataka where it emerged in 1957. It took pioneering interdisciplinary work to bring together diverse entities like the Rockefeller Foundation and the Virus Research Centre , Pune, the World Health Organization and the Bombay Natural History Society.
Many decades later, India is yet to operationalise a true OneHealth policy.
Range of permissions:
The Government of India has recently launched the National Mission on Biodiversity and Human Well-being. The mission aims to explore the neglected links between biodiversity science and human well-being across the sectors of health, economic development, agricultural production and livelihood generation, in combination with efforts to mitigate climate change and related disasters. One of the components of the mission explicitly links biodiversity to human health through the OneHealth framework. The OneHealth programme aims to encourage team science by having networks of institutions collectively bid for grants to set up integrated OneHealth surveillance systems across India at 25 sentinel surveillance sites in potential emerging infectious disease hotspots.
In this manner, government and private institutions, across a range of disciplines, from virology to epidemiology, genomics to ecology, and social and behavioural sciences to veterinary and animal sciences can collaborate to understand how zoonotic diseases can emerge, the threats they can pose, and the mechanisms by which the emergence or spread can be controlled. The frequency with which new pathogens are emerging or old ones are re-emerging across the world are alarm calls for greater transparency, cross-country collaborations, and enhanced national infrastructure and capacity for integrated OneHealth science. The cause of mitigating large-scale human suffering justifies making such a hitherto unprecedented effort.