Cooperation creates synergies

In biological terms, humans and animals are similar. Their wellbeing is interconnected and linked to their environment. Biovision takes account of this and in various projects adopts a “One Health” approach. However, what does that mean exactly?

by Simon Gottwalt, project manager

Humans are animals – a biological fact used by many bacteria and other microbes to happily jump from animal to humans and vice versa. In contrast, the doctors who look after humans and those who look after animals live in different worlds: Their training is separate, they have different labs and offices, there is a lack of communication between the two and sometimes a lack of understanding.

Key role of communication
This can be seen quite clearly from the Biovision projects in Isiolo County in Kenya. As soon as a veterinary office receives an alert from an animal disease reporter about a suspected case of Rift Valley Fever, it ought to share this information immediately with the Ministry of Health. However, those responsible for animal health and human health are located in two different ministries and so this exchange of information is not a matter of course. Moreover, that is not just the case in Africa. For example, in the Netherlands, there was a major outbreak of Q fever amongst humans between 2007 and 2010 because the veterinary office failed to provide information promptly.

Cooperation creates an additional benefit
“One Health” is designed to overcome such shortcomings. In order to improve healthcare, we ought to take account not just of human and animal medicine but also food and the environment. Jakob Zinsstag, Professor of One Health at the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute (Swiss TPH) summarises the approach as follows:

“One Health is when those involved in animal and human medicine work closely together and so produce an additional benefit, e.g. improving the health of humans or animals, reducing costs or improving ecosystem services. Without cooperation between human and animal medicine, there will be no such added value.”

This is why in Isiolo County, our project partner, icipe (the international insect research institute) worked with the relevant authorities to draw up clear rules for the prompt exchange of information between different ministries.

Interdisciplinary exchange
At the heart of this approach is the interdisciplinary cooperation between vets, doctors, social scientists, grazing specialists and other experts. For example, in Eastern Ethiopia, the Swiss TPH with support from Biovision has just started to develop an integrated monitoring system for human and animal health and the state of grazing land. This single system will speed up the detection of dangerous diseases. That will save money as instead of three separate systems, only one will be required. There is an urgent need for such integrated approaches for nomadic peoples and their cattle, particularly in the Horn of Africa where they receive little care from the static state health system.

Killing several birds with one stone

Starting in 2019, Biovision will also link human and animal health in the area of Integrated Vector Management (IVM), i.e. the control of ticks, mosquitoes and other insects that transmit diseases. In the past, Biovision’s IVM measures have focussed on malaria control and so on people. The new approach will kill several birds with one stone, i.e. kill several types of flies. Cattle will be sprayed with a bio-insecticide; this will reduce the population of the Anopheles mosquito that transmits malaria. At the same time, there will be measures to control parasitic bloodsuckers such as the Tsetse fly and ticks that also spread dangerous animal diseases.

Universal health system

Linking various areas of health is not something new for Biovision. Our projects have always addressed the health of plants and the environment as well as the wellbeing of animals and humans. Professor Zinsstag considers this to be extremely important: “Health protection must always include factors such as air pollution, global warming and soil fertility.” He regards “One Health” as just one part of EcoHealth, a type of universal health system. “Everything is interdependent! Something that we have actually known for quite some time,” says Zinsstag. If we are to remain one step ahead of the microbes, we must take immediate action that reflects that knowledge.