One World, One Health: A Critical Reminder for Earth Day
In September 2004, a group of colleagues and I, concerned that the intrinsic relationships between our health and the way we manage the environment were not being recognized, met in New York City and put forward The Manhattan Principles on “One World, One Health,” with this preamble:
Recent outbreaks of West Nile Virus, Ebola Hemorrhagic Fever, SARS, Monkeypox, Mad Cow Disease and Avian Influenza remind us that human and animal health are intimately connected. A broader understanding of health and disease demands a unity of approach achievable only through a consilience of human, domestic animal and wildlife health — One Health. Phenomena such as species loss, habitat degradation, pollution, invasive alien species, and global climate change are fundamentally altering life on our planet from terrestrial wilderness and ocean depths to the most densely populated cities. The rise of emerging and resurging infectious diseases threatens not only humans (and their food supplies and economies), but also the fauna and flora comprising the critically needed biodiversity that supports the living infrastructure of our world. The earnestness and effectiveness of humankind’s environmental stewardship and our future health have never been more clearly linked. To win the disease battles of the 21st Century while ensuring the biological integrity of the Earth for future generations requires interdisciplinary and cross-sectoral approaches to disease prevention, surveillance, monitoring, control and mitigation as well as to environmental conservation more broadly.
We then, on one page, urged the world’s leaders, civil society, the global health community and institutions of science to follow 12 logical, constructive principles that still hold-up well today (although I’d be happier if they’d been more broadly heeded). I urge you to read them all. Principle 7, for example, states “Reduce the demand for and better regulate the international live wildlife and bushmeat trade not only to protect wildlife populations but to lessen the risks of disease movement, cross-species transmission, and the development of novel pathogen-host relationships. The costs of this worldwide trade in terms of impacts on public health, agriculture and conservation are enormous, and the global community must address this trade as the real threat it is to global socioeconomic security.” And Principle 9 exhorted society to “Increase investment in the global human and animal health infrastructure commensurate with the serious nature of emerging and resurging disease threats to people, domestic animals and wildlife. Enhanced capacity for global human and animal health surveillance and for clear, timely information-sharing (that takes language barriers into account) can only help improve coordination of responses among governmental and nongovernmental agencies, public and animal health institutions, vaccine / pharmaceutical manufacturers, and other stakeholders.”
It seems somewhat ironic that this 2004 call to action came from New York City, where COVID-19 has now wrought just the types of tragedy and havoc we were hoping to preclude. But it’s not too late to adopt these principles, and do better going forward. In fact, on this 50th Earth Day, it’s actually worth reminding ourselves that the extraordinarily complex challenges humanity will continue to face will not be solved by focusing inwards, by shunning international collaboration, dismissing sound science and the experts who generate it, or by failing to invest in genuine preparedness. From global climate change to biodiversity loss; from air, water and soil pollution to depletion of freshwater resources; from authoritarianism to the loss of a shared sense of truth — these crises all require a coming together of the global citizenry and the leaders who truly represent them if we are to have any chance of securing a more sustainable and peaceful future for ourselves and for generations to come. On this 50th Earth Day, it really does seem like COVID-19 is trying to remind us, almost taunt us, that we are stronger when we are unified, and flounder when we don’t maximize transparency, honesty, and international collaboration.
The conclusion of The Manhattan Principles notes:
It is clear that no one discipline or sector of society has enough knowledge and resources to prevent the emergence or resurgence of diseases in today’s globalized world. No one nation can reverse the patterns of habitat loss and extinction that can and do undermine the health of people and animals. Only by breaking down the barriers among agencies, individuals, specialties and sectors can we unleash the innovation and expertise needed to meet the many serious challenges to the health of people, domestic animals, and wildlife and to the integrity of ecosystems. Solving today’s threats and tomorrow’s problems cannot be accomplished with yesterday’s approaches. We are in an era of “One World, One Health” and we must devise adaptive, forward-looking and multidisciplinary solutions to the challenges that undoubtedly lie ahead.
That was 2004. In 2020, let’s act as if we truly comprehend the pandemic’s stark reminder that there really is only one world, and one health. May Earth Days to come be better for it.
Steve Osofsky is a wildlife veterinarian and the Jay Hyman Professor of Wildlife Health & Health Policy at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, and led the drafting of The Manhattan Principles on One World, One Health in 2004. He directs the Cornell Wildlife Health Center and is also a Cornell Atkinson Center for Sustainability Faculty Fellow.