Responding to international requests to prevent future pandemics and to promote health sustainably through the One Health approach, four major United Nations technical agencies issued a new One Health global action plan on 18 October: The “One Health Joint Plan of Action (2022–2026)” (OH JPA) – with a subtitle that clarifies it: “Working together for the health of humans, animals, plants and the environment”.
The four UN agencies, known as the Quadripartite, are the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH, founded as OIE), and the World Health Organization (WHO) and they are the core members of the One Health High-Level Expert Panel (OHHLEP).
The Quadripartite initial move had been to produce a comprehensive definition of One Health, namely:
“One Health is an integrated, unifying approach that aims to sustainably balance and optimize the health of people, animals, and ecosystems.
It recognizes the health of humans, domestic and wild animals, plants, and the wider environment (including ecosystems) are closely linked and interdependent.
The approach mobilizes multiple sectors, disciplines, and communities at varying levels of society to work together to foster well-being and tackle threats to health and ecosystems, while addressing the collective need for clean water, energy and air, safe and nutritious food, taking action on climate change, and contributing to sustainable development.”
The New OHHLEP One Health Action Plan: What it is
The Action Plan builds on existing global and regional One Health and coordination initiatives aimed at strengthening capacity to address complex multidimensional health risks with more resilient health systems at the global, regional, and national levels.
Worth noting is that local communities have shown commitment and attention to surveillance for early detection of infectious disease outbreaks – often with notable success.
The Action Plan stated objectives are to:
- Provide a framework for action and propose a set of activities the four organizations can offer together to advance and sustainably scale up One Health.
- Provide upstream policy and legislative advice and technical assistance, to help set national targets and priorities across the sectors for the development and implementation of One Health legislation, initiatives, and programs.
- Take stock of existing cross-sectoral global and regional initiatives around One Health, identify and advise on synergies and overlaps, and support coordination.
- Mobilize and make better use of resources across sectors, disciplines, and stakeholders.
The Plan is guided by a theory of change around six interdependent action tracks that collectively contribute to achieving sustainable health and food systems, reduced global health threats and improved ecosystem management, namely:
- Enhancing One Health 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 (AMR)
- Integrating the environment into One Health
Each track consists of a set of actions with specific activities, deliverables, and a timeline to achieve specific objectives and guidance.
This is a much welcome contribution in moving One Health as a global priority: But….
What about other UN entities?
This new Joint Plan of Action is focused on the four main global partners of the OHHLEP, the so-called Quadripartite. These four will be carrying the heavy lifting in the field of endeavor, supported by external bilateral and multilateral financing institutions and not-for-profit supporters.
Not to be forgotten are others in the UN system that can play important and complementary roles. Two examples are mentioned below, but there are many others with different functions that are very active, such as the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF), the UN Refugee agency (UNHCR), the World Food Programme (WFP), and the UN Development Program (UNDP).
World Trade Organization (WTO)
The WTO website states:
“Trade is nothing more than a means to an end. It could never be more important than protecting the environment or raising the quality of life. What WTO agreements do is to try to make trade support the things we really want, including a clean and safe environment, and to prevent governments using these objectives as an excuse for introducing protectionist measures.
“The Parties to this Agreement [recognize] that their relations in the field of trade and economic endeavour should be conducted with a view to raising standards of living, ensuring full employment and a large and steadily growing volume of real income and effective demand, and expanding the production of and trade in goods and services, while allowing for the optimal use of the world’s resources in accordance with the objective of sustainable development, seeking both to protect and preserve the environment and to enhance the means for doing so in a manner consistent with their respective needs and concerns at different levels of economic development …”
There is also a range of provisions in WTO’s rules which allow countries to curb trade to protect human, animal or plant life or health, and conserve exhaustible natural resources.
For example, WTO focuses on the environment with a yearly event: the WTO Trade and Environment Week. This year it is set to be held from 16 to 20 November. The next logical step would be to organize a WTO One Health Week.
World Meteorological Organization (WMO)
The first global knowledge platform dedicated to climate and health has been launched by the World Meteorological Organization and World Health Organization Joint Office on climate and health, with support from the Wellcome Trust. It is in response to growing calls for actionable information to protect people from the health risks of climate change and other environmental hazards.
Climate and health are inextricably linked. Climate change, extreme weather events and environmental degradation have a fundamental impact on human health and well-being. More people than ever before are exposed to increased risk, from poor water and air quality to infectious disease transmission to heat stress.
In recognition of this, WMO is strengthening its climate and health-related activities. Its recent Services Commission meeting passed a series of resolutions embracing improved early warnings, and more action on heatwaves and integrated urban services for health.
Looking Ahead to 2023 and the United Nations General Assembly
The United Nations General Assembly is planning to hold a special high-level session on pandemics. It goes without saying that prominent on that agenda must be One health.
And more than words, what is needed are commitments to actions by all its many relevant institutions. Starting with the Quadripartite, FAO, UNEP, WOAH and WHO – but also all the others: UNICEF, UNDP, UNHCR, WFP, WTO and WMO as mentioned here.
In short, all the major UN agencies, but not them alone. Similarly, governments, civil society, academia, and certainly the private sector, each have a critical role to play – and a responsibility if we are to prevent, be better prepared, and able to respond to infectious disease…
Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed here by the authors are their own, not those of Impakter.com — In the Featured Photo: Abstract rendering inspired by UNEP’s featured image on its One Health Joint Plan of Action page