One Health: The health concept for a sustainable future?

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One Health is seen as a beacon of hope for preventing pandemics such as corona and zoonoses in general in the future. Is this really the health concept for a sustainable future? We get to the bottom of this in this article.

Eckart von Hirschhausen calls the One Health concept no less than “revolutionary”. The doctor and science journalist known from TV alludes to overcoming the sectoral classification of health. Because health must be thought of globally. Only healthy nature and healthy animals create the necessary basis for healthy people.

The approach thus defines the planetary limits of capitalism not only in social and ecological terms, but also directly in terms of health. Environmental protection in this sense is therefore human protection at the same time – One Health bridges the gap between the two.

One Health as global healthcare

One Health is aimed at prevention – i.e. health care for us humans – which would be insufficient without the protection of nature. We are experiencing this in the Corona crisis, which has been with us in everyday life for two years.

But what does the One Health concept mean in concrete terms? According to current knowledge, corona was transmitted from animals to humans. This type of infectious disease is called zoonosis. According to the Helmholtz Center for Infection Research (HZI), more than two thirds of the infectious diseases known to us originate in animals.

So One Health breaks away from a mindset that separates human health from the nature of the rest of the world. According to the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), it is rather the case that “the health of humans, animals and the environment is closely related”.

One Health – Health and Climate

The destruction of nature increases the risk of zoonoses.
The destruction of nature increases the risk of zoonoses.
(Photo: CC0 / Pixabay / bones64)

zoonoses will occur more frequently the closer the contact between humans and wild animals will be in the future. Human encroachment into different natural areas of the earth not only destroys the livelihoods of other species and accelerates climate change, but also ensures that the risk to human health increases immediately.

To make matters worse, more and more bacteria are becoming antibiotic-resistant. This is due to the frequent use of antibiotics in human and veterinary medicine as well as the residues in production wastewater from the pharmaceutical industry.

Here is an example of how excessive meat consumption affects global health:

  • To meet the high global demand for meat, people are clearing forests to make room for factory-farmed feed. In doing so, they contribute to climate change and thus come into increased contact with wild animals.
  • the conventional farming contributes to antibiotic resistance by preemptively administering antibiotics to livestock farmers. This encourages multi-resistant germs and for certain bacterial infections, in the worst case, there is no longer a cure.

Consumption, capitalism, climate and health are therefore interwoven and influence each other. Like climate change, infectious diseases do not stop at national borders. Consequently, in a globalized world, a global and cross-sectoral approach is necessary to prevent health crises. The One Health principle represents such an approach.

Health as a socio-ecological problem

As with climate change, there are countries that are more affected than others in terms of health. Poorer sections of the population suffer particularly because they often do not have the necessary means to protect themselves. So-called Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTD) affect these people in particular. More than a billion people worldwide suffer from such diseases.

Since NTDs are usually caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi or worms, hygiene is an important preventive tool. Access to clean drinking water, unspoilt food that is as healthy as possible, and a functioning medical care system are key factors.

While reading you will have already noticed how important sustainability and socio-ecological viability are for human health and that many things are interconnected. When it comes to the big questions of the future regarding climate, human health and animal habitat, one point leads to another. The One Health approach builds on this insight.

One Health – Knowing how

This all sounds very theoretical at first. Below you can read what the One Health approach can look like in practice. The German Institute for Development Policy derives three concrete measures to support developing countries from One Health:

  1. The strengthening of health systems: The training of health care staff must be improved in as many countries as possible in order to be able to deal with infection crises quickly and effectively and also to improve the education of the population.
  2. Education, hygiene and early warning systems: With the improved health education of the population, early warning systems must also be created that prevent a complete loss of control in dangerous situations as far as possible. Hygiene education must go hand in hand with this. The basis for this is a correspondingly developed infrastructure.
  3. Protected areas on land and in the sea: The better we die protect nature and the more sanctuaries we offer wild animals, the less likely it is that zoonoses will occur. For example, according to the German Institute for Development Policy in Malaysia, heavy deforestation has led to flying foxes infecting pigs with the Nipah virus and the pathogen finally spreading to local farmers. Developing countries must be supported by other nations in the project to create ecological sustainability.

Ultimately, One Health not only affects developing and emerging countries, but of course also the materially rich industrialized nations. They have contributed significantly to the state of the world today through their course of unlimited economic growth and continue to do so through transnational economic relations.

A rethinking in our consumer-driven society has long been necessary and does not mean doing without, but rather gaining social, ecological and health stability on a global scale. A sustainable lifestyle not only supports the fight against climate change – it also protects global health.


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