We’ve heard a lot lately about what life will be like after COVID-19. But what measures can we take to protect our health from such devastating diseases in the future?
This pandemic has hit the world hard and opened our eyes to the relationship between our own health and the health of our ecosystems. This is a concept known as One Health, which was previously only really talked about in wider circles in relation to antimicrobial resistance (AMR). In the animal health field however, One Health is at the very essence of everything we do.
From conception to delivery, veterinary medicines go through assessments to ensure that they are safe for the animals they will be administered to, for the people administering the medicines, and for the environment.
Veterinary medicines also contribute to One Health in three very different ways. First, there are medicines developed for farm animals. The aim here is to ensure that farm animals are well cared for and free from disease, safeguarding their health and welfare. This also ensures that we, the consumers, enjoy a safe and plentiful food supply.
"This pandemic has hit the world hard and opened our eyes to the relationship between our own health and the health of our ecosystems"
Second, some medicines are developed with the aim of ensuring that our pets and assistance animals can live long and happy lives, so that we also can enjoy a multitude of benefits from their companionship.
Third, another range of medicines are developed for wild animals to protect us, farm animals, and our pets from diseases that can spread through contact with wildlife.
We often say ‘disease knows no borders’, and we don’t just mean geographical borders. We mean the invisible borders that exist between species. And this is where veterinary medicine has an extremely important role to play in One Health. But action should not stop there.
If COVID-19 has taught us anything it should be this: surveillance and detection, diagnosis, control and management, brought together with greater collaboration between sectors are the only way to better prepare for future infectious disease outbreaks.
On a global scale this means international agencies cooperating more closely on health challenges within different disciplines. It also means we need more vets working in hotspots where these diseases often emerge, where contact with wildlife currently goes unchecked.
We at AnimalhealthEurope believe that there is a need for closer cooperation between the veterinary and human health surveillance and detection efforts at global level.
At the European level this means enhancing dialogue between our agencies, such as the European Food Safety Authority, the European Medicines Agency and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
Interconnections of the different disciplines must also be strengthened, not only from a health reporting perspective, but also from a preparedness perspective, and it must be instilled in education, in policy and in the ‘new normal’ moving forward.
The challenge of AMR has driven some implementation of One Health thinking into EU policies in recent years. The EU’s One Health Action Plan against AMR is a clear demonstration, but the application of this collaborative concept seems to stop at this one, albeit great, challenge. The EU needs urgently to have a One Health strategy going beyond AMR.
Concerns over the AMR challenge coupled together with widespread global concern over environmental issues can only be assuaged through more effective collaboration in research and practice between medical and veterinary practitioners in partnership with biologists and environmentalists.
For anyone working in animal health, and indeed for anyone working with or keeping animals, infectious diseases have always been of great significance and many steps have been taken in Europe to prevent and eliminate such diseases in our animal populations. This must be recognised, and a greater exchange of expertise should be facilitated. The application of One Health thinking needs to be at heart of the Farm to Fork strategy.
The EU Green Deal, in particular the Biodiversity and Farm to Fork strategies, sets out measures and goals aimed at restoring a sense of coherence within its environmental and health policies.
Implementation of this strategic plan for transforming our food system should be based on ensuring access to innovative and enabling technologies for animal health, as well as actions that support improved prevention and detection, increased biosecurity, better animal disease preparedness, and enhanced monitoring and surveillance around the globe.
Incentivising access to animal health innovations and ensuring training on their use, while encouraging a stronger focus on protecting animal health, can actually help deliver on this more integrated One Health approach.
"We often say ‘disease knows no borders’, and we don’t just mean geographical borders. We mean the invisible borders that exist between species. And this is where veterinary medicine has an extremely important role to play in One Health"
Use of innovative digital tools and preventive practices can help boost the sustainability not only of livestock production, but of our health and that of our environment.
When animals are healthy, this leads to better animal welfare. When animals are protected against disease, this means a safe supply of high-quality and nutritious meat, milk, fish and eggs, and reduced risk of foodborne illness.
With earlier diagnosis and better use of big data to deliver on more targeted healthcare, this means less illness and therefore fewer food losses, reduced consumption of natural resources like feed and water, and lower emissions.
By supporting farmers through the transformation proposed in the Farm to Fork strategy with the provision of animal health products and services we can help to ensure a more integrated approach and deliver more holistic care.
In short: healthy animals means healthier people and a healthier planet.