Zoonotic diseases have long been a blight to India. COVID-19 has underlined this issue, but India is no stranger to a host of other zoonotic diseases.
In an exclusive interview with BusinessLine, Atul Chaturvedi, Secretary of the Department of Animal Husbandry and Dairying introduced the concept of “One Health”. The One Health framework underlines that animal health, human health, and the environment are all interconnected, and that ignoring one will come at the detriment of the others.
As a study published last year outlined, “zoonotic diseases have been increasing globally as well as in India. Of 1407 human pathogens, 816 were zoonotic…These include 538 bacteria and rickettsia, 317 fungi, 208 viruses, 287 helminths, and 57 protozoa.” The study also highlighted that as many as 177 (thirteen percent) of the total pathogens were emerging or reemerging, and of these 130 (75 percent) were classified as zoonoses.
Some critical areas in which the One Health policy will be implemented address some of the most common interactions between humans and animals “As part of the ‘One Health’ initiative, we are looking at building good production practices at farm and field level to reduce disease burden and hence antimicrobial resistance.” said Chaturvedi.
Indeed, the overuse of antibiotics has been cited as one of the major drivers of antibiotic resistance worldwide. In many situations in which commercially farmed animals are densely packed in confined spaces it has become the practice to overuse antibiotics as a precaution, as these environments create an ideal situation in which diseases can infect huge numbers of animals.
Chaturvedi has said that collaborative workshops will be held with stakeholders, as well as awareness programmes for those in related industries
“Operationalising a ‘One Health’ approach requires leveraging the cooperation and strengths of diverse sectors, both public and private, including livestock, human health, wildlife, environment, technology, and finance to develop solutions to these local, national, and global challenges. The Government of India’s Department of Animal Husbandry and Dairying in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, and the World Bank has initiated ‘One Health’ activities will bring together key stakeholders to plan on how to effectively mount a collaborative and coordinated response to these challenges.”
While the close connection between humans and animals is a key factor in zoonotic disease, the environment also plays a large role in the spread of zoonotic conditions. As previously reported by Health Issues India “rates of zoonotic diseases have shown a correlation with those living in areas close to fragmented forests and in areas where deforestation occurs. There are numerous examples of deforestation playing a role in the spread of zoonotic infections. Lyme disease, also spread by ticks, has shown to increase in areas associated with fragmented forests and deforestation in the US. Ebola is another example of this concept. The disease is currently raging in the war-torn Democratic Republic of the Congo.”
Zoonotic conditions are often overlooked and neglected. In India, they often proliferate among poorer, rural communities working closely with animals or in agriculture, and so, find themselves proliferating in areas with limited access to healthcare. The One Health policy, by addressing the situation holistically may serve to assist in addressing the root causes of the spread of zoonotic disease. This may give hope to the future that diseases such as COVID-19 are caught and isolated before the situation escalates to the scale of a pandemic once again.