Panelists Discuss Challenges to One Health Concept

Research continues to prove that human and animal medicine are inextricably linked, so why aren’t veterinarians and physicians working closer together to prevent and manage current diseases that can infect both animals and humans?

A panel hosted by the Animal Health Institute, the Association of American Veterinary Medical Colleges (AAVMC), and the American College of Preventive Medicine convened in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday to discuss this important topic, suggesting that the challenges lie anywhere from the differences in the medical communities’ cultures to poor communication among the groups to the lack of government funding for One Health programs.

The public health and animal health communities often have competing priorities, which can be problematic in how health issues are addressed.

“We need to move past the mentality of ‘us’ versus ‘them’ and begin to look at the shared risks among the groups,” said Dr. Peter Rabinowitz of the Yale Human Animal Medicine Project. “‘One Health’ is the concept of uniting animal health, public health and environmental health.”

He gave an example of how public health and the environment are often examined before a natural gas company can begin fracking at a particular location, but yet the impacts to animal health—which could affect the biodiversity of the ecosystem and foods of animal origin, thus later resulting in impacts to public health—are not taken into consideration. The key, he said, is to increase communication about the studies that are going on to bring the two spheres together.

Taken a step further, human health and animal health must be tied together from a communications perspective at a policy level, posited Dr. Ted Mashima of AAVMC. If you look at the recent Farm Bill, for instance, you could call it “the One Health bill,” since it provides funding for key programs that ensure healthy food production and crops, and nutrition programs that provide many Americans with the resources needed to feed their families. Unfortunately, this lack of branding for key policy initiatives that support both animal and human health programs discourages building awareness with policymakers who can effect change.

This is why public awareness campaigns like the Partners for Healthy Pets, an alliance of more than 20 veterinary associations—including AVMA—and animal health companies, is important. Outreach like this can help educate the public about diseases that can be prevented and shows the ties between human and animal medicine.

Despite the cultural differences between the two medical communities and the need for increased communication between the two groups, funding for key preventive research programs still presents a significant roadblock to getting physicians on board. Though doctors may see the health benefits for their patients that would come by working with veterinarians to identify and prevent diseases, government funding in the public health arena is typically directed toward the treatment of diseases rather than prevention, leaving little incentive for physicians to collaborate with veterinarians.

“Preventive medicine doesn’t have a budget line item,” said Dr. Halley Faust of the American College of Preventive Medicine. “Prevention is not as high a priority as treatment. In fact, only 8 cents on the dollar goes to prevention, compared to other health care costs.”

Barring any national policy that states that human and animal health should go together, then there really is no push from inside the human health community to get involved, said Dr. Rabinowitz, as was evidenced by the few physicians in the audience at the panel.

Although the One Health concept still has significant challenges to overcome at the national level, U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) said that there is still “a great opportunity for veterinarians to make a huge difference in the public health arena” going forward.

2 thoughts on “Panelists Discuss Challenges to One Health Concept

  1. Thanks for this write-up. Do you have any idea if the American College of Veterinary Preventive Medicine was invited to participate? They seem like they would have been a natural partner along their human counterparts.

    • No problem! I’m not sure, but you could ask AHI via Twitter @AnimalsHealthy.