Uniting Health, Conservation, and Food Security for Resilient Communities and a Thriving Planet

What does “One Health” mean for you?

Oct 26 · 5 min read
Image for post
Image for post
Simeo Ntawuruhunga with a cow he received from the Nkuringo Community Conservation and Development Foundation. The COVID-19 pandemic is a reminder of how human health and food security are deeply connected with livestock, wildlife, and environmental health. Some of the greatest threats to global well-being are found where the health of people, animals, and the natural environment intersect. / Jason Houston for USAID

Some of the greatest threats to global well-being — such as COVID-19, HIV/AIDS, antibiotic resistance, and biodiversity collapse — are found where the health of people, animals, and the natural environment intersect.

Emerging diseases from animals account for almost 75 percent of all new diseases in humans; biodiversity collapse threatens the ecosystem services that support life; antibiotic resistance threatens health care, food production, and life expectancy. Understanding and addressing these essential connections — taking a “One Health” approach — is critical to secure basic needs, to respond to current disease outbreaks, and to prevent future pandemics.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a stark reminder of how human health is deeply interconnected with the health of the planet. As a zoonotic disease — one that can be transmitted between animals and people — “spillover” of COVID-19 from an animal host to humans likely occurred along the wildlife supply chain, in which people hunt, capture, or breed wild animals to eat or to sell into markets. Poor hygiene and unsafe handling practices along these chains increase the risk of zoonotic disease spillover and spread.

The economic and food security impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic threaten people around the world by massively disrupting food systems and stressing social safety nets. Some households are turning to the natural environment — the safety net of last resort — to meet their basic needs.

This overreliance on natural resources can result in further degradation of the environment, perpetuating a vicious cycle. Throughout the world, the human health burden of zoonotic diseases falls heavily on the poor, especially in regions recovering from other humanitarian crises.

Our partner countries’ growing self-reliance depends on natural resources. However, when natural resources are not used sustainably, it threatens our environment’s ability to provide critical ecosystem services — fertile soil, clean air and water, food, pollination, defenses against vector-borne diseases, and more. USAID programs can help by taking a One Health approach.

Image for post
Image for post
Jeya Wani, a farmer in the village is one of 79 farmers implementing improved goat housing and feeding interventions promoted by USAID Africa RISING. / Jonathan Odhong’, ITTA

Malawi has lost 12 percent of its tree cover since 2000 — and that loss has accelerated over time. This has resulted in increased flooding of agricultural fields and crop destruction, reduced access to clean drinking water, reduced dietary nutrition, and increased risk of diarrheal disease. USAID’s Africa RISING program in Malawi addresses these issues by helping families sustainably intensify their farms to improve production. For example, smallholder farmers learn agroforestry practices that integrate trees with crops and maintain a green cover on the land year-round. This allows farmers to improve food security and nutrition while increasing soil fertility, tree canopy, and wildlife habitat.

Image for post
Image for post
While palm sap is a popular sweet drink, it can also harbor Nipah virus. / CDC Global

In 2006, Bangladesh experienced an outbreak of illness and sudden deaths. USAID supported research by EcoHealth Alliance epidemiologists, who identified a connection between the bat-borne Nipah virus and date palm sap. The natural habitat for Nipah-carrying bats is tropical forests, but when that habitat is destroyed, the bats seek other sources of food, like date palms. In South Asia, raw date palm sap is a sweet drink popular in the winter when the sap is easiest to tap. People typically hang pots in the trees overnight to collect the sap, during which bats can contaminate the liquid with their saliva, urine, and feces. Community health workers collaborated with affected communities to promote simple but effective changes, including using closed sap collection containers and boiling the date palm sap before drinking. These actions disrupted the cycle of contamination, illness, and death.

Different species of the Ebola virus have had devastating impacts on communities throughout sub-Saharan Africa. The West African Ebola epidemic (2014–2016) was the largest of its kind in history, leading to nearly 30,000 reported deaths.

Image for post
Image for post
USAID established an extensive surveillance program in Sierra Leone to successfully identify the animal source and reservoir of Ebola virus and other closely related viruses. / USAID Predict

In 2018, USAID-supported scientists in Sierra Leone, who were on the front lines of the battle against the disease, discovered a new Ebola virus species (Bombali ebolavirus) in a bat host before detection in an infected human or animal. Discoveries such as these have provided critical insight into where, when, and how emerging zoonotic viruses spread, enabling rapid detection and response to future outbreaks. USAID is now taking the next step to further understand and address the risks posed by zoonotic diseases. A new project, STOP Spillover, will enhance understanding of the complex drivers of viral spillover and strengthen national capacities in surveillance, risk analysis, and behavior change, enabling countries to rapidly identify and contain future outbreaks. Additionally, USAID’s HEARTH program is currently co-creating a dozen alliances with private-sector partners to advance conservation of threatened ecosystems, support public health and well-being, and encourage agriculture and other livelihoods, with the first awards expected in late 2020 and early 2021.

USAID joins the global community in recognizing One Health Day on Nov. 3, which highlights these connections and the need to address these complex challenges holistically.

At USAID, colleagues across the Agency — from the Bureau for Global Health; the Bureau for Economic Growth, Education, and Environment; the Bureau for Resilience and Food Security; and the Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance — are joining forces to preserve human health, food security, and the health of the planet. When we work together across sectors, we can achieve more sustainable and resilient outcomes for people and for the planet we call home.

Zandra Andre serves as Senior Infectious Disease Technical Advisor for USAID’s Bureau for Global Health (GH), Natalie Bailey is a Biodiversity and Communications Advisor for USAID’s Forestry and Biodiversity Office in the Bureau for Economic Growth, Education and Environment, Alexis Barnes is the Online Communications Specialist in USAID’s Bureau for Humanitarian Assistance (BHA), Christine Jost is Senior Livestock Technical Advisor in BHA, Kiersten Johnson is a Monitoring and Evaluation Advisor in USAID’s Bureau for Resilience and Food Security, Aaron Rossi is a Communications Advisor for USAID’s Global Health Security Division in GH, and Joseph Tritschler serves as Agriculture and Food Security/Livestock Surge in BHA.

U.S. Agency for International Development

Stories of USAID’s Work from Around the World

Medium is an open platform where 170 million readers come to find insightful and dynamic thinking. Here, expert and undiscovered voices alike dive into the heart of any topic and bring new ideas to the surface. Learn more

Follow the writers, publications, and topics that matter to you, and you’ll see them on your homepage and in your inbox. Explore

If you have a story to tell, knowledge to share, or a perspective to offer — welcome home. It’s easy and free to post your thinking on any topic. Write on Medium

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store