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One Health: Most imminent and urgent: Shri Atul Chaturvedi

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Shri Atul Chaturvedi, Secretary, Department of Animal Husbandry & Dairying, Government of India, updates Viveka Roychowdhury, about the urgent need to strategically operationalise the One Health approach in India

Experts are predicting an increased emergence of zoonotic diseases/infections based on past incidence of bird flu, swine flu, and more recently Nipah virus and Zika virus outbreaks. India is also endemic for malaria etc. What are the initiatives of the Government of India to predict, detect and prevent such outbreaks?

Global health is facing a massive threat posed by emerging zoonotic diseases and infections, causing colossal economic damage in the past two decades. An estimated 1.7 million viral species are circulating among wildlife and 50 per cent of these have the potential to cause human infections.

Therefore, controlling zoonotic pathogens at the animal source is not only critical for animal health, but also for building healthy nations and people. In this domain, the Department of Animal Husbandry and Dairying (DAHD) has come up with the initiative to implement an effective One Health agenda by establishment of One Health Support Unit (OHSU), that will devise a systematic approach to effectively manage animal health and decrease disease incidence at a national and global level. It will help in building a robust animal health surveillance system, thereby preventing the spillover to humans.

Besides, the Department has set up Disease control programmes for critical diseases of zoonotic in nature affecting humans chronically. In collaboration with the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare we are developing the National Action Plan for various zoonotic infections in India, which would lead to eradication of dreaded diseases. Further, DAHD has been working closely with the office of the Principal Scientific Adviser, Government of India to develop an end-to-end virtual platform for livestock sector, and also aims to create a unique identification number (UID) for animals and their registration on Information network of Animal productivity and Health  (INAPH), which will help in real-time surveillance of livestock diseases and active investigation of the same.

Global agencies are propagating the One Health concept, wherein the aim is to balance the health of people, animals both wild and domesticated, as well as flora fauna etc. What is India’s policy on this front? What are the timelines to implementation and milestones to achieve and are these practical realities, given how the COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted policy making, implementation and most importantly, enforcement of these policies?

The “Special Livestock Sector Package” including emphasis on animal health and infrastructure development – announced by GoI on July 14 – is a major step forward towards effective implementation of One Health.

The “One Health India” programme initiated by the Department is particularly poised to work with all the sectors- public and private – including livestock health, human health, wildlife health, environmental health, technology and finance; with a view that to complement each other while working together. We do envision not to keep the programme limited to only scientific experts but be open to policy experts, local knowledge, practitioners, citizens and all relevant stakeholders to get their valuable feedback and expertise.

Essentially, the One Health concept acknowledges that animal health and human health are inextricably inter-linked. Therefore, the One Health approach shall help in timely detection, mitigation and restriction of public health emergencies (e.g. COVID-19) and prevention of endemic zoonotic infections.

What are the prevention and risk mitigation strategies to avert future pandemics in terms of public health preparedness etc.?

Operationalising the One Health approach requires leveraging the cooperation and strengths of diverse sectors – both public and private – including livestock, human health, wildlife, environment, technology and finance to develop solutions for these local, national and international challenges.

All sectors relevant to One Health should step forward in a structure manner to address these cross-linkages and successfully prevent the spillover of diseases to the human population. Besides these, there is also a need to encourage a policy environment which enables core capacity building in order to respond to identification challenges.

I believe, scientific intervention along with cross-learning among experts from diverse professional areas will help in effectively implementing the One Health concept in the country. This will instigate a new dimension in understanding the thrust areas among scientists and researchers for analysing the gaps and filling them by adopting global best practices adjusted to Indian conditions to achieve One Health in India in its true sense.

What is the role of the medical fraternity in these strategies, besides having to deal with a sudden increase in patient load as we are seeing in the current COVID-19 pandemic?

It has been seen in recent past that various health related challenges having enormous socio-economic impact across the globe are emerging. These include emergence of new contagions, re-emergence of existing infections which are sometimes neglected, discovery of antimicrobial resistance at human-animal-environment interface or an effect of climate change on vector-borne diseases and vector epidemiology.

Besides, the expected demand for animal-derived protein in the world will double by 2050. Over the period of the coming decade, the per capita availability of animal protein in high-income countries is expected to grow slowly (1.8 grams per person per day, or three per cent). It is further expected that the gap in animal protein consumption between high and middle-income countries will decline by four per cent, to 30 grams per person per day in 2030.

Also, rising food safety issues owing to changes in food preferences and global warming are of great concern for various sectors that can’t be tackled effectively by remaining confined to respective professional silos.

It is therefore, incumbent upon the medical fraternity to come together and develop response mechanisms by identifying research gaps and following a synergised approach. If experts collaborate and strategically implement the One Health concept in India, then, safeguarding people, domestic animals, wildlife, plants and the environment will be a definitive outcome.

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