The advent of a holistic approach to ‘one health’

The ‘National One Health Mission’ is the result of recognition that only a coordinated approach will ensure a better response to disease outbreaks

Updated - April 12, 2024 04:36 pm IST

Published - April 11, 2024 12:41 am IST

‘One Health’ is not just limited to diseases’

‘One Health’ is not just limited to diseases’ | Photo Credit: Getty Images

The interdependence between humans, animals and environment has been made increasingly evident with the emergence of pandemics such as COVID-19. It is not just humans who are affected by pandemics but also livestock — an example being the outbreak of lumpy skin disease that has spread across countries.

The recent decision on the ‘National One Health Mission’ by the cabinet marks a milestone.

In July 2022, the Prime Minister’s Science, Technology, and Innovation Advisory Council (PM-STIAC) endorsed the setting up of the ‘National One Health Mission’. Since then, 13 Ministries and Departments as well as science funding agencies — this includes the Department Of Science and Technology, the Department of Biotechnology (DBT), the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), the Department of Pharmaceuticals, and AYUSH, or Ayurveda, Yoga and Naturopathy, Unani, Siddha and Homeopathy — the Ministries of Health, Animal Husbandry and Environment as well as Defence came together to shape the mission, taking one of the most holistic approaches to one health and pandemic preparedness in the world. There was consensus among the leadership of these Ministries to have a National Institute for One Health. Based in Nagpur, it is to be the anchor in coordinating activities nationally, and the nodal agency to coordinate international activities across the space of one health. The foundation stone of this institute was laid by the Prime Minister Narendra Modi on December 11, 2022.

More a journey

The goals of the ‘National One Health Mission’ are to develop strategies for integrated disease surveillance, joint outbreak response, coordinated research and development (R&D) and ensure seamless information sharing for better control of routine diseases as well as those of a pandemic nature. While diseases that affect humans such as COVID-19 are well known, diseases that affect animals such as foot and mouth disease or lumpy skin disease can hit productivity and trade. Similarly, these and other diseases such as canine distemper affect wild animals and their conservation. Only a coordinated approach will ensure that we are better prepared for such diseases as well as those that can cause the next pandemic such as avian influenza or Nipah.

Pandemic preparedness is incomplete without there being a focus on strong R&D. Focused R&D can ensure that we are better prepared for emerging diseases through the development of tools such as vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics, that is critical for India and the world. This is where all the participating departments such as the DBT, CSIR, the Indian Council of Medical Research, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research and the Department of Pharmaceuticals will play a role. It is not just government departments but also our academic centres and the private sector that will be the critical stakeholders in making this a reality. All these efforts can become effective only when there is close coordination between the Centre and States. Therefore, working with States will not only help them in introducing this approach in a much better way at the ground level, but the lessons also learned in the process of implementation will help in evolving an effective strategy — the approach to One Health is more a journey than a destination.

A network of laboratories

Under the mission, a national network of high-risk pathogen (Biosafety level or BSL 3 and BSL 4) laboratories has been created. Bringing such laboratories that are managed by different departments together will serve to address the disease outbreak response better regardless of human, animal and environmental sectors. There will be better resource utilization of expensive but much-needed infrastructure but also good linking from across sectors better to tackle diseases such as Nipah that involve bats, pigs, and humans, for example.

Further, India has to augment its epidemiology and data analytic capability. Under the mission, efforts are being made to apply artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning and disease modelling to address these issues and coordinate capacity building in epidemiology across sectors. Emerging approaches such as genomic surveillance from wastewater showed promise during the COVID-19 pandemic. This will be expanded to other sentinels such as places where animals (livestock or wildlife) congregate for a broader set of diseases to be taken up so that we mainstream these approaches to be a part of routine surveillance across human, livestock and environmental sectors.

A global subject

‘One Health’ is a global topic. During India’s presidency of the G-20, this approach was highlighted and widely endorsed by all the members to work together in specific areas such as building better surveillance capacity, analytic capability and setting up an international network of ‘One Health’ institutes.

‘One Health’ is not just limited to diseases. It concerns wider aspects such as antimicrobial resistance, food safety, plant diseases and the impact of climate change on all of these. Intersectoral topics such as ‘One Health’ require close engagement of not just different governmental agencies but also non-governmental organisations, academia, the private sector and also citizens. Such an approach focused on an actionable framework will further the goal of moving closer to the clarion call of ‘One Earth, One Health’ and ‘Health for All’.

Ajay Kumar Sood is the Principal Scientific Adviser to the Government of India

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