November 25, 2020

What do a doctor, a veterinarian and a biologist do to take care of the planet?


The coronavirus pandemic has shown that human health cannot be understood as an isolated unit. Six out of ten infectious diseases come from animals and three out of four emerging infectious diseases have jumped from an animal to the human species. Covid-19 is just one of the most successful, but it is known that there will be many more. Globalization, the loss of ecosystems, urbanization or climate change are behind the increase in zoonoses in the last century. But the health strategy that promotes the well-being of humans, animals and ecosystems is addressed as a whole has not yet been consolidated.

Despite the fact that the majority of political parties have recognized in recent months the importance of the One Health (Una Salud, in Spanish), in Spain there is still no concrete plan in this regard. The Senate rejected a few days ago to create a commission to design a national strategy in this regard; The little participation of veterinarians in the control of the pandemic is also striking. But more and more organizations in various sectors are calling for experts in human health, animal health, and environmental health to work together to prevent and tackle the diseases that we know or will appear.

“Until the separation between the rural and urban areas took place, the doctor, the veterinarian and the apothecary collaborated closely. It is not until the population emigrates en masse to the cities that the professionals separate, and the doctor , the pharmacist and the nurse dominate the urban space and the veterinarians stay in the town “, explains the professor of Animal Health and member of Medicine and Conservation of Wild Animals, Santiago Vega García.

Focus One Health, which has gained importance in the last two decades even in the World Health Organization (WHO), demands that health policies begin to break that barrier, because it is not as real as we think. Veterinarians have long faced epidemics, they were the first to notice a first coronavirus in a cat in 1914, as well as some of the symptoms that could cause such as bronchitis in chickens or intestinal diseases in pigs. “African swine fever or foot-and-mouth disease are diseases of populations in which the problem must be addressed as a group and not as an individual,” says this veterinary doctor. “When it comes to prevention, the entire farm is vaccinated or acts with a population mentality,” he adds.

But it also demands that the link with the environment be studied. The pandemic has reminded us that humans are not independent of our ecosystems and that our relationship with them has repercussions. “Pandemics have increased considerably in the 20th and 21st centuries, so we have to stop and look at what has changed,” explains Vega García. “And what has changed is that we are cracking the wall, the dam of these infectious agents. By increasing deforestation, the consumption of wild animals or extensive livestock we are opening ecosystems where animals lived that previously did not coexist with humans. We cannot see health as an isolated compartment, but rather as something that connects with many other aspects, including social and economic aspects “.

For the director of the Institute of Immunology and Infectious Diseases, Fernando Fariñas Guerrero, only if we become aware of this interrelation can we prevent or fight the threats that we will face. “The term globalization should also include global health”, he says, “including the integrative view that, without caring for the environment and animal health, the health of the human species is in serious danger.”

For this researcher, in fact, the ‘One Health’ approach should include both health and non-health groups. Doctors, veterinarians, biologists, pharmacists, nurses, … but also engineers, mathematicians, sociologists or ethnologists. “To face emerging threats, we will have to contemplate yes or yes a radical change in global policy in everything related to human, animal and environmental health, and begin to practice the concept of truth and not as an advertising fad One Health“.

A good example is some collaborations that have come up with this approach recently and have been successful. This is the case of antibiotic resistance prevention programs, where both doctors and veterinarians have reduced their use with great success (sales to animals have been reduced by more than 30% since 2015); or the WHO global influenza program, which studies the various strains that arise each year in animals to prevent human outbreaks and prepare more efficient vaccines.

The biggest problem, as explained by the director of the publishing house specialized in One Health AmazingBooks, Javier Abrego, is that few professionals know the benefits of this joint work. “Perhaps veterinarians are more aware than the group of doctors because they have direct contact with animals. But even these, according to a survey at various universities, are largely unaware of this approach.”

For the director of the Institute of Immunology and Infectious Diseases Fernando Fariñas, however, institutional support is essential. “If the governments of all countries do not show interest in the implementation of this type of programs, it will have to be the foundations, institutions and private organizations, as up to now, those that have to be in charge of the financing, and those that pursue that alone health for all “.

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