From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : One Health Concept
Mains level : Livestock health issues
Frequent Outbreaks of Zoonotic Diseases
- Not so long ago, the widespread prevalence of avian influenza in poultry, or bird flu as it commonly became known, created nationwide panic resulting in the culling of millions of poultry birds.
- It was concern for human health that prompted the extreme reaction and subsequent establishment of protocols; containment of avian influenza is managed quite effectively now.
- Similarly in 2003, SARS or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome emanated suddenly in China and vanished soon.
Followed by hues and panic
- These outbreaks culminated emergency response that included extreme measures like travel bans and restrictions.
- In both cases, panic spread much faster than the virus.
- Besides drawing a response from governments, these events also brought forth the hitherto forgotten philosophy of One Health.
- This idea recognizes inter-connectivity among human health, the health of animals, and the environment.
The One Health concept
- The World Organization of Animal Health, commonly known as OIE (an abbreviation of its French title), summarizes the One Health concept.
- It says that as “human health and animal health are interdependent and bound to the health of the ecosystems in which they exist”.
- Circa 400 BC, Hippocrates in his treatise On Airs, Waters and Places had urged physicians that all aspects of patients’ lives need to be considered including their environment; disease was a result of imbalance between man and environment.
- So One Health is not a new concept, though it is of late that it has been formalized in health governance systems.
Why rise in such outbreaks?
- As human populations expand, it results in greater contact with domestic and wild animals, providing more opportunities for diseases to pass from one to the other.
- Climate change, deforestation and intensive farming further disrupt environment characteristics, while increased trade and travel result in closer and more frequent interaction, thus increasing the possibility of transmission of diseases.
- According to the OIE, 60% of existing human infectious diseases are zoonotic i.e. they are transmitted from animals to humans; 75% of emerging infectious human diseases have an animal origin.
- Of the five new human diseases appearing every year, three originate in animals. If this is not scary enough, 80% biological agents with potential bio-terrorist use are zoonotic pathogens.
- It is estimated that zoonotic diseases account for nearly two billion cases per year resulting in more than two million deaths — more than from HIV/AIDS and diarrhoea.
- One-fifth of premature deaths in poor countries are attributed to diseases transmitted from animals to humans.
Urgent care needed
- Humans require a regular diet of animal protein.
- This calls for strict health surveillance to incorporate domestic animals, livestock and poultry too.
- Thus, loss of food animals on account of poor health or disease too becomes a public health issue even though there may be no disease transmission, and we lose 20% of our animals this way.
India: The forerunner of global health
- The WHO was set up in 1948 to, among other objectives; promote cooperation to control human diseases.
- India, a founding member, also hosted the first meeting of WHO’s South East Asia Regional Committee in October that year.
- The cooperation and collaboration among nations to control and contain animal diseases is a sine qua non for achieving the WHO objectives.
- This has been recognised as early as in 1924 when OIE was established to fight animal diseases at the global level.
- India has been at the forefront of both these apex bodies, though for different reasons.
India is at the forefront
- The size of India’s human and animal populations is almost the same; 121 crore people (2011 Census) and 125.5 crore livestock and poultry.
- A network of 1.90 lakh health institutions in the government sector form the backbone of health governance, supported by a large number of private facilities.
- On the other hand, only 65,000 veterinary institutions tend to the health needs of 125.5 crore animals; and this includes 28,000 mobile dispensaries and first aid centres with bare minimum facilities.
Need for a robust animal health system
- Private sector presence in veterinary services is close to being nonexistent.
- Unlike a physician, a veterinarian is always on a house call on account of the logistic challenge of transporting livestock to the hospital, unless they are domestic pets.
- There could not be a stronger case for reinventing the entire animal husbandry sector to be able to reach every livestock farmer, not only for disease treatment but for prevention and surveillance to minimize the threat to human health.
- Early detection at animal source can prevent disease transmission to humans and introduction of pathogens into the food chain. So a robust animal health system is the first and a crucial step in human health.
- Developing countries like India have much greater stake in strong One Health systems on account of agricultural systems resulting in uncomfortably close proximity of animals and humans.
- This builds a strong case for strengthening veterinary institutions and services.
- The most effective and economical approach is to control zoonotic pathogens at their animal source.
- It calls not only for close collaboration at local, regional and global levels among veterinary, health and environmental governance, but also for greater investment in animal health infrastructure.