Africa: Joint Action Plan for Promoting One Health Launched at COP27 #AfricaClimateHope

Sharm el-Sheikh — Africa's public health systems with often poor infrastructure are overburdened as well as lack the necessary equipment and medication to treat patients

The climate crisis together with extreme weather has created conditions conducive to outbreaks of infectious diseases such as new breeding sites for malaria, dengue fever, and other diseases. This has meant a rethink of healthcare amid the challenges of the climate emergency.

A coalition of health emergency partners is working to reform the continent's current crisis response system. One Health is "the main approach for addressing the complex health challenges facing our society, such as ecosystem degradation, food system failures, infectious diseases, and antimicrobial resistance," says the joint statement from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and the World Health Organization (WHO). The four key health and agriculture organisations worked together so that they are better prepared to prevent, predict, detect, and respond to global health threats and promote sustainable development.

Amina Benyaha, a scientist at WHO One Health Initiative (OHI), Healthier Population Division Office, gave some background on the initiative. "We all know that One Health is not a new concept. It was already on the international agenda but Covid-19 really strengthened its importance. It was Covid-19 that really reminded us of the importance of taking this One Health approach. With an increasing number of multi-dimensional, water, energy, food security, and biodiversity challenges, really requires to take this on health collaboration, coordination, communication, but also capacity building."

The One Health Joint Plan of Action (2022-2026) seeks to improve the health of humans, animals, plants, and the environment while contributing to sustainable development. The five-year plan outlines six action tracks:

  • enhancing One Health's capacities to strengthen health systems;
  • reducing the risks from emerging and re-emerging zoonotic epidemics and pandemics;
  • controlling and eliminating endemic zoonotic, neglected tropical, and vector-borne diseases;
  • strengthening the assessment, management, and communication of food safety risks;
  • curbing the silent pandemic of antimicrobial resistance; and
  • integrating the environment into One Health.

According to the WHO, the technical plan of action is supported by research, industry standards, and current recommendations. It covers a range of initiatives that work to enhance One Health at the international, regional, and local levels. One of these initiatives is the creation of a forthcoming implementation guide for nations, global partners, and non-state entities like civil society organisations, trade associations, universities, and research institutes.

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Why it's important

As climate change worsens, the world faces a number of health threats. A high-level panel with speakers from international organisations, academia, and governments sat down to discuss how environmental challenges such as the climate crisis can be tackled from a One Health perspective.

"Environmental degradation has direct or indirect negative consequences for human and animal health. We can take the example of land use changes, deforestation, biodiversity loss, and sustainable agriculture production and intensification among other drivers. They are really threatening the ecosystem integrity and really posing increased health risks for the human-animal plant and environment interface.These risks are made worse by expanding urbanisation and food production and consumption patterns including an increasingly complex food chain, poor waste management, and disposal, increased trade and travel as well as the climate crisis," Benyaha said.

Dr. Maria Neira, Director of the Department of Environment, Climate Change and Health, at the World Health Organization spoke on the environmental determinants of One Health, saying its implementation is often still very much under-explored especially when trying to ensure that it's fully integrated at all levels of collaboration at the national and the international levels. She said that 25% of the global burden of disease is linked to environmental risk factors.

Dr. Zitouni Ould-Dada the Deputy Director, of the Climate and Environment Division of the Food and Agriculture Organization, said that "things in the real world are integrated into, connected in that way. And we have to reflect on them in our work and through the One Health that provides this opportunity … One Health needs to be inclusive. It needs to be multi-sectoral and it certainly needs to go above and beyond the experts, we need a whole government and also a whole of society approach for one health to be effective."

One Health Global Coordinator, at the World Organisation for Animal Health,Dr Chadia Wannous said that "our role is to integrate the environment into all of our standards and all of our codes and norms that we provide to countries to strengthen their animal health services, and veterinary services. We also promote our climate smart agriculture, and vet services, we all have a role to play here to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions from the animal health sector. We can do this by making our services more climate, smart, and environmentally sound. And we can do this through the training of our health workforce, along with the environment sector and human health, we can also invest in energy and infrastructure, and technology to reduce emissions."

Dianna Kopansky, the Policy & Programme Expert on Peatlands, Forests & Ecosystems at the United Nations Environment Programme added that "we're in a phase of action. I want to just say it's not actually complex because I think what we try to do is also try to understand it from our different places and spaces. But we're all people. And we depend on nature. It's the food we eat, it's water we drink, it's the air we breathe, and it's the places that we live, and those places that we love. So I want to just boil it down to that and that means everyone needs to get back to prevention … a healthy relationship with nature, and really understand the impact of their decisions. And the work that we all do collectively needs to be done together."

This story was produced as part of the 2022 Climate Change Media Partnership, a journalism fellowship organised by Internews' Earth Journalism Network and the Stanley Center for Peace and Security

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