One Health: Working together for human and animal health

Bern, 18.10.2018 - Prevention and early detection are central to effective control of communicable diseases and their vectors, such as mosquitoes. To strengthen cooperation between public health, animal health, agriculture and the environment, Switzerland has created the One Health interdisciplinary platform. A first national conference was held in Bern on 18 October 2018 to discuss current topics.

For the first time, experts from several federal offices and cantons came together with internationally recognised specialists to discuss the health challenges posed by the communicable diseases of today and tomorrow and to develop potential solutions. The focus was on current risks such as Campylobacter bacteria (responsible for gastrointestinal infections in humans), hepatitis E, Legionella and migration of exotic species of mosquito.

Strengthening of interdisciplinary cooperation is necessary

Most new and emerging human infections come from animals. We have only to look at the impact of Ebola in West Africa in 2014/15, the evolution of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and the BSE crisis in UK to see the importance of veterinary, human health and environment groups working together in the One Health agenda. Only by taking a holistic approach to complex health problems can we identify the links between them and take cross-sectoral measures to preserve human and animal health and a sound environment in the long term.

As Professor Dilys Morgan of Public Health England stressed at the one-day national conference in Bern: ‘New infections will continue to emerge and the principles of One Health will allow us to better prevent, detect, prepare and respond to these threats’.

One Health worldwide

Interdisciplinary cooperation under the One Health banner has a long history. The term "One Medicine" was coined by US veterinary epidemiologist Calvin Schwabe as early as the 20th century. Schwabe advocated closer cooperation between disciplines in the field of health. For epidemiologist Jakob Zinsstag and his team at the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute (Swiss TPH), this was the starting point for research into the interface between humans and animals in Africa and Asia.

The World Health Organization (WHO) works closely with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE). This makes it possible to develop interdisciplinary solutions for risks related to food, zoonoses and other public health hazards at the human-animal-ecosystem interface, and to issue appropriate recommendations.

Switzerland set up its One Health interdisciplinary platform in 2017. The platform consists of representatives of the Federal Office of Public Health (FOPH), the Federal Food Safety and Veterinary Office (FSVO), the Federal Office for Agriculture (FOAG) and the Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN). It also includes the Armed Forces Veterinary Service and the cantonal enforcement agencies. Cooperation can accelerate our response to emerging threats and help to leverage synergies, which can have beneficial effects on the health of humans, animals and the environment.

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Federal Food Safety and Veterinary Office

Federal Office of Public Health