‘One Health’ initiative found effective in preventing zoonotic diseases

According to one of the studies involving 1,400 plus infectious pathogens infecting humans, nearly 60% originated in animals

In order to curb the increasing cases of viral transmission from wildlife to humans, which often has catastrophic consequences, like the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic; implementing the One Health Program, a multi-sectoral approach to protecting the health of humans, animals and ecosystem alike, was timely, besides being wholesome.

The assistant professor of epidemiology with the Khesar Gyalpo University of Medical Science of Bhutan (KGUMSB), Dr. Sithar Dorjee explained how human health and the health of the ecosystem are closely connected and interdependent.

“If we look into the origins of the COVID-19 or other emerging infectious diseases, 60% originate in animals, with 72% originating in wildlife,” he said.

According to one of the studies involving 1,400 plus infectious pathogens infecting humans, nearly 60% originated in animals.

“This is where ‘One Health’ is focusing on bringing in the animal and human sector together towards prevention, early detection and minimizing the impact of zoonotic diseases,” he said, explaining zoonotic disease as one that transmits from animals to humans.

Before the outbreak of the H5N1 in 2005, these sectors did not even collaborate, but with more infectious diseases making landfall in the country lately, the One Health initiative is a wholesome approach to addressing the current health crisis.

The World Health Organization, World Organization for Animal Health, and Food and Agriculture Organization collectively developed tripartite one health strategy documents and recently included the United Nations Environmental Protection Agency.

The professor said that if prior to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, if the international community had invested adequately in one health program, the virus and its origin could have been detected early and authorities could have taken swift actions to stop it from spreading further into other countries.

He mentioned rabies as a classic example of a disease requiring a multi-sectoral approach. In Bhutan rabies is mostly detected in stray dogs, whereas in other countries the virus can be spread from wildlife.

“It is also one of the success stories in Bhutan although there were several outbreaks and one death due to rabies in the last four to five years,” he said, adding that Bhutan has developed one health strategy since 2016.

He further explained the COVID-19 response team bringing in epidemiology from animal health sectors and laboratory technicians to test PCR machines, while engaging food health officials is also one health approach. 

“One health program is also necessary in the future because more and more zoonotic disease is emerging like zika, SARs MARs and coronavirus,” he said, “this program will help in detecting, preventing and controlling the diseases at the source, which will be cost effective, preventing any future pandemic.”

So far, Bhutan has developed an integrated national influenza pandemic preparedness plan, integrated rabies prevention plan, treatment and control program and joint AMR program, besides strategy for anthrax and scrub typhus.

Dr. Sithar also emphasized on how zoonotic disease incidences are rising yearly.

“Every two to three years there is a new disease infection or a new outbreak even in the human population,” he explained, attributing the rise in the outbreak of these diseases to human encroachment and animal farming.    

He further cited how the sharp increase in scrub typhus cases over the last 10 years is related to cardamom cultivation, which attracts rats carrying mites infected with scrub typhus.

“A few people have lost their lives due to this disease,” he added.

Dechen Dolkar from Thimphu