One Health: the concept that the health of the environment, wild and domestic animals, and people are linked.
A group of students in the NC State University College of Veterinary Medicine (CVM) had an idea back in 2008. They wanted to create a forum to meet with medical and public health peers from Duke University and the University of North Carolina to discuss One Health—the concept that the health of the people, wild and domestic animals, and the environment is inextricably linked.
The CVM students wanted to create a structure for students and faculty to share perspectives and expertise on mutually interesting topics in related health fields. As envisioned, the forum would provide students an opportunity to broaden their knowledge base and enhance networking opportunities. With the help of faculty from the Center for Comparative Medicine and Translational Research, the idea became a reality with the formation of a One Health Intellectual Exchange Group through an outreach program at the North Carolina Biotechnology Center.
While One Health is not an entirely new concept—the connection between human and animal disease was acknowledged at least as far back as the 19th century—the approach to public health has demanded increasingly interdisciplinary thinking as health officials around the world collaborate in combating new and emerging infectious diseases, some 75% of which originate in animals.
In late 2007, the American Medical Association, the American Veterinary Medical Association, and the American Public Health Association were among the health professional groups that formed a task force to advocate for closer ties between human and veterinary medicine. The results of their work was adoption of a “one health policy” and an AVMA One Health Executive Report recommending the formation of a national One Health Commission.
The One Health Intellectual Exchange Group (IEG) formed to “foster scientific information exchange, industry, and academic partnerships, and professional networking opportunities” and began meeting in January 2009 at the centrally located North Carolina Biotechnology Center in Research Triangle Park.
In addition to NC State, Duke, and UNC, sponsors of the One Health IEG included North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Sciences, the National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences, and North Carolina Public Health. Early discussions were led by faculty members from the three universities as well as invited medical professionals, public health officials, and research scientists representing diverse disciplines in academic, government, and private sectors.
In a related development, a group of health professionals formed the North Carolina One Health Collaborative in partnership with the Triangle Global Health Consortium. The Consortium’s aggressive mission: engage academic, governmental, business, and nonprofit organizations to establish North Carolina as an international center for research, training, education, advocacy, and business dedicated to improving the health of the world’s communities.
The North Carolina One Health Collaborative adopted the student-initiated One Health IEG as its official discussion forum and further enhanced stakeholder involvement by creating a graduate-level course entitled, “One Health: From Philosophy to Practice.” The course expands the original IEG discussion function and allows students to interact with professionals, meet prospective mentors and, for those interested, gain elective course credits.
Cross-listed at NC State, Duke, and UNC, the course brings in renowned speakers who present their own work and lead discussions concerning the interface of human, environmental, and animal health. The range of discussion topics has included zoonotic diseases, allergic disease, cancer, issues of food and water safety, antibiotic resistance, environmental health and toxicology, global health, regenerative medicine, obesity, nutrition, advancements in prosthetic technology, benefits of comparative medicine, climate change and earth’s changing ecology.
The course has been popular and a number of students have said that it has changed their way of thinking. In addition to attendance and participation, students are charged with selecting, researching, and presenting case studies that address global One Health issues. These case studies have included responses to the restriction of DDT and malaria, the emergence of Ebola and issues of bushmeat consumption, E.coli in food such as spinach, the outbreak of Nipah virus in humans and pigs in Malaysia, clean water and sanitation issues along the Yangtze River in China, and Foot and Mouth Disease response in England. These case studies are being edited into an online compendium to be shared globally with other educational institutions.
Other universities have contacted the North Carolina One Health Collaborative inquiring about the structure of the One Health Intellectual Exchange Group and the course. Dr. Cheryl Stroud, a veterinarian who now chairs the One Health Intellectual Exchange Group, says the evolution of that simple 2008 CVM student request to the current endeavor suggests the importance of the One Health concept.
“The mission statement of the NC One Health Collaborative is to promote and improve the health and well-being of all species by enhancing collaboration among physicians, veterinarians, researchers, environmental scientists, and other health professionals and by increasing public awareness of the interconnectedness of people, animals, and the environment,” says Dr. Stroud.
“There are many emerging zoonotic disease and countless overlaps of human, animal, and environmental health concerns that are not yet being taught in medical curriculums,” Dr. Stroud continues. “On a practical level, health professionals are often at a loss to diagnose and treat unfamiliar diseases that find their way to our communities through increased globalization. It is critical that we engage each other in significant and open communications and exchange of information.”
For more information: