A Journalist's Guide to Covering and Implementing the One Health Approach in Reporting15 April 2022
The One Health framework emphasizes the need for practitioners working in human, animal and ecosystem health to collaborate in order to better understand and address the many factors involved in disease transmission. The approach has been adopted by the World Health Organization (WHO), that works closely with the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) to promote multisectoral responses to public health threats originating in the animal-human-environment interface. Although this integrated approach is widely accepted as the most effective way to reduce these risks, it receives little media attention.
The One Health framework encompasses – and can be used to combat – the spread of zoonotic diseases, antimicrobial resistance and chemical contamination, among other issue areas.
The shared environment of animals and humans allows potential exposure to viral and bacterial pathogens, as well as the same toxic agents, be it heavy metals to plastics to highly hazardous pesticides. When outbreaks of illness in humans and animals occur concurrently, studying the disease in animals in addition to humans can provide valuable insight.
However, for the purposes of this tipsheet, we consider how the One Health concept applies to zoonotic diseases.
At present, three out of four emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic in nature – meaning that they originated in animals. Human-activity driven factors such as climate change, urbanization, animal migration and trade, travel and tourism continue to influence and increase the emergence, re-emergence, distribution and patterns of zoonotic diseases.
“Everything is interconnected,” says Katherina Thomas, Pandemic Mentor at Internews’ Health Journalism Network. “A better understanding and better reporting on One Health and zoonotic diseases also informs understanding of topics that affect humans.”
As this global threat of future pandemics increases, there is a vital need for integrated reporting on the socio-economic, social, scientific and behavioral factors that are contributing to zoonotic disease outbreaks. It is no longer sustainable for environmental journalists, health journalists, public health officials and scientists to work in silos – they must take integrated and collaborative approaches to understanding and educating the public on the intersections of human, environmental and animal health.
“There is a global awakening about the importance of One Health following the COVID-19 pandemic. It has become a front and center issue in the minds of policymakers, and it’s up to journalists to set that agenda.”
Jaya Shreedhar, Pandemic Mentor, Health Journalism Network, Internews
This approach will not only help raise awareness about holistic, solutions-oriented outcomes, but can help increase local awareness and drive funding toward policy action. Through scientific underpinnings, story examples and ideas, case studies and further reading, this tipsheet aims to provide journalists with the resources and knowledge to apply the One Health approach to reporting on the growing global issue of zoonotic disease threats in their region.
The history of One Health
Although the principles that inform the One Health framework date back to the 1800s, the term “One Health” was not coined until 2004 when the Wildlife Conservation Society brought together human and animal health experts at a symposium in New York City. They discussed the ways that existing and emerging infectious diseases can spread between animal and human populations and called for an interdisciplinary, multi-institutional approach that recognizes the complex interconnections between human, animal and environmental health. In 2007, at a conference in New Delhi, India, representatives of 111 countries and 29 organizations came together to discuss the importance of the One Health approach for pandemic preparedness. A year later, at a ministerial conference in Egypt, representatives from health ministries across 120 countries endorsed the One Health approach and released a framework for combined infectious disease control. In 2012, the first One Health summit was held at Davos.
The One Health Framework is now an integrated and holistic approach to infectious disease management, advocated by the World Health Organization (WHO), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Organization for Animal Health.
The One Health approach needs good communication and collaboration to succeed. At a government level, this can sometimes pose a challenge in contexts where political priorities undermine cross-sectoral dialogue and partnership.
To better understand these factors in your region, look at the broader picture: interview epidemiologists, veterinarians, anthropologists and public health officials. Scour Google Scholar for existing research on the topic and consider how that research plays into local factors.
Working together to solve global problems
One Health is a multisectoral approach—working at the local, regional, national, and global levels—that recognizes the interconnection between people, animals, plants, and their shared environment.
One Health is one of the most important tools we have at our disposal to tackle the most pressing challenges that our planet is facing. Collaboration between organizations, decision-makers, experts of multiple disciplines, and local communities are essential to tackling future pandemics.
The One Health paradigm uses what is known as the ‘systems approach’ to public health: the premise that no single sector can achieve impactful, sustainable results alone and that it is only through addressing the interconnectedness of society that we can reduce health inequities and improve health outcomes for all.
We all share a part in the One Health approach. But the connections between human, animal and environmental health mean that the practice of One Health can be approached from different, (or simultaneous) angles in order to achieve shared goals.
Journalists reporting on zoonotic disease outbreaks and risks would do well to look deeper into the framework and what it offers. When journalists focus only on public health (vaccination drives, for example), or only on environmental health, (deforestation or drought, for examples), solutions will never be holistic, or as effective.
“One of the common factors that runs across the coverage of zoonoses, is that the stories are often focused on a particular outbreak, locality or community. The whole confluence of environmental, human and animal health has to be explained repeatedly through the stories.”
Jaya Shreedhar, Pandemic Mentor, Health Journalism Network, Internews
Using the One Health approach in your reporting
The One Health approach to research efforts should be reflected in journalistic reporting by ensuring that human, animal, and environmental health questions are evaluated holistically, to provide a more comprehensive understanding of the problem and potential solutions, rather than a siloed approach.
“Journalists can take a more multidisciplinary approach when investigating issues at the intersection of human, animal and environmental health. For instance, if you are investigating wildlife trafficking, besides looking at the impacts on public health and how it endangers animal species, also look at how it could boost transnational crime and affect the way of life of Indigenous communities.”
Stella Paul, Project Officer, Environment and Health, Earth Journalism Network
On March 24, EJN hosted a webinar titled, ‘Chains of Transmission: Covering One Health Approaches to Combat Vector-borne and Zoonotic Diseases in Asia,’ covering tips for effectively reporting at the intersection of human, environmental and animal health.
Panelists, both EJN grantees and mentors, spoke about how journalists can keep the public – and public health officials – better informed to break chains of transmission, and how reporters should best cover One Health approach in their region.
According to Shreedhar, one of the most common factors that runs across the coverage of zoonoses is that stories are often too focused on a particular outbreak, locality or community, and should instead seek to provide a holistic and cross-sectoral perspective.
To that end, Shreedhar emphasized that it is key for journalists to speak with different sectors.
“The policymakers are trying to bring this convergence about: bringing the health sector specialists, together with veterinarians with wildlife specialists with the other national larger national programs it's really key to mesh, to bring about cross-sectional convergence,” she said.
Even if journalists find that in practice, experts from different fields are working separately in their region, mentors from HJN and EJN encourage journalists to go to these different departments. Don’t just speak to public health officials or virologists. Look at the larger government policies, interview people from the wildlife sector, or veterinary doctors.
Watch the full recording of the webinar here.
Real world examples of One Health in Action
Anthrax in Kenya
Anthrax is transmitted zoonotically from wild and domestic mammals (including cows, sheep, goats and other livestock, who ingest bacteria Bacillus anthracis spores in contaminated soil, plants or water). Humans contract the disease when the spores enter the body through the gastrointestinal system or skin, typically through eating undercooked meat or handling contaminated animal products.
A 2019 paper in BMC Public Health describes an example where the One Health approach ensured the rapid control of a zoonotic anthrax outbreak in New Nakuru county, Kenya. There, outbreaks of anthrax typically occur annually, and the disease is endemic.
In May and June 2016 after 10 cows suddenly died, a farmer who suspected anthrax infection sent samples to a veterinary laboratory. When the samples tested positive for anthrax, veterinary pathologists notified public health officers at the sub-county level, who traced the affected farms, conducted community awareness and engagement activities, and ensured that exposed humans received prophylactic treatment from health workers at nearby health centers. Field epidemiologists then followed up a month later by conducting epidemiological surveillance in communities and at local health centers. They traced 29 people at risk of disease and found that only 3 had developed cutaneous anthrax. They found that a majority of those who did not develop clinical disease had been treated with prophylaxis earlier.
This case study illustrates the importance of rapid communication between farmers, veterinary pathologists, public health officers and health workers. Without the collaboration between these three groups, it is likely that a greater number of human cases would have developed.
Monkeypox in Cameroon
Monkeypox in Cameroon Monkeypox, which has a fatality rate of about 10% in humans, has largely been recorded in small rodent populations including squirrels, rats and mice. But it can spill over into non-human primates and has been found in several species of lab monkeys (giving the disease its name) including chimpanzees and, to a lesser extent, in wild monkeys in West and Central Africa, according to Veterinarians International.
The monkeypox virus is transmitted to humans and non-human primates through mucus membranes, the skin or the respiratory tract. In 2014, several chimpanzees became unwell at the Sanaga Yong Chimpanzee Rescue Center. After the cases were reported to Cameroon’s Ministry of Health, a One Health intervention was initiated. Ministry of Health officials collaborated with researchers and practitioners across multiple sectors, building a single investigation team made up of representatives from the Ministry of Livestock, Fisheries and Animal Industries, the Ministry of Forestry and Wildlife, epidemiologists, veterinarians, physicians, other clinicians, and diagnostic laboratories. Their investigation included literature reviews, risk assessments, sampling and diagnostics, knowledge sharing and communications strategies. The outbreak did not spill over into human contacts. The investigation was also significantly shorter and cheaper due to the use of a single, interdisciplinary team.
Avian Flu in Luzon, Philippines
In this EJN-supported article, Virologists as Gatekeepers: Scientists in Philippines Prepare for the Next Pandemic, Klaire Ting and Nica Rhiana Hanopol explore the One Health approach that the Philippines government utilized when responding to an increase of avian flu outbreaks in the country.
In 2020, a guideline was issued to set up the Philippine Interagency Committee for Zoonotic Diseases (PhilCZ) “as the functional and sustainable ‘One Health’ mechanism” in the country that will boost the coordination between the animal-human health and environment sectors to prevent and control zoonoses nationally and locally.
The DOH, DA and the DENR’s Biodiversity Management Bureau form the PhilCZ. For local cases, LGUs, under the command of mayors and governors, oversee the surveillance and response activities.
Through the proposed Virology Institute of the Philippines (VIP) under the DOST, the government also seeks to boost the country’s resilience during public health emergencies by leading the research and development of vaccines and testing kits, as well as the diagnosis and treatment of viral diseases.
The DOH houses the Philippine Integrated Disease Surveillance and Response system and the Event-Based Surveillance and Response or the process that involves early reporting of a health event; the DA has the Philippine Animal Health Information System; and the DENR has the Biodiversity Management Bureau.”
Monkey Fever in Karnataka, India
In this EJN-supported article, Healthcare Workers Struggle to Balance COVID-19 and Monkey Fever in Karnataka, journalist Mohit Rao explores the One Health approach – and the challenges of implementing it – to combat Kyasunur Forest Disease (KFD), popularly known as Monkey Fever, which is endemic to a few parts of south India.
“In 2019-2020 itself, the veterinary department was seen as an important stakeholder to curb KFD. Cattle, which are often left to graze in forests, return to villages with infected ticks on their body. A pilot was started for the department to administer anti-parasital injections to cattle, hoping that this would reduce tick densities on livestock.
While Virus Diagnostic Laboratory (VDL), officials see some success in the pilot, veterinary department officials say it is impractical to continue this on a large scale. “Our doctors will have to go door-to-door to inject this every few months. We don’t have the resources or the budget for this,” said a senior veterinary official in Shivamogga.
Taking a cue from this, VDL has sent the state government a proposal for a “One Health” committee.
The program approach is gathering momentum in India with the creation of a national group on One Health, while the Union government announced the setting up of a One Health institute as part of the 2021-22 budget. KFD, believe researchers and officials, is ripe for a collaboration to stem the next big outbreak.
“Tackling a zoonotic [disease] like KFD needs year-round activity and not just before each KFD season. The district officials need to conduct training of officials, educate villagers, or carry out cattle vaccinations. During an outbreak, you need all these departments to come together to make quick decisions. Currently, each department has its own protocol. With a One Health committee, decisions can be taken much faster while funding can be pooled from all departments,” says Raghunandan, Deputy Director at VDL.”
“Journalists can consider interviewing anthropologists and social scientists, which are crucial perspectives that are often forgotten in public health stories.”
Katherina Thomas, Pandemic Mentor, Health Journalism Network, Internews
Story themes and ideas
- To what extent have One Health approaches been adopted in your region? What are the challenges to scaling it?
- What are some success stories you could highlight in your reporting from similar regions which may have a bearing on solutions that could be implemented in your region?
- What are some of the multidisciplinary approaches that organizations are taking to monitor and prevent pathogenic spillover? How are they working on the ground?
- What efforts are scientists, public health professionals, and other officials in your region making to prevent zoonotic diseases?
- How does human, environmental and animal health affect each other in your region?
- Journalism in the COVID-19 era: Why Health Reporting Must Focus on Human, Animal and Environmental Issues to Help Combat Future Pandemics
- Age of Pandemics: 1817-1920: How They Shaped India and the World, by Chinmay Tumbe
- Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic, by David Quammen
- One Health as a catalyst for sustainable development, Nature Microbiology
To read more EJN supported stories on zoonotic diseases and One Health, visit our zoonotic webpage, Chains of Transmission. For tips and resources for reporting on zoonotic disease and zoonoses, click here.
This tipsheet was produced by Signi Livingstone-Peters, with input from Katherina Thomas, Jaya Shreedhar, Amrita Gupta, Stella Paul and Kok Eng Amy Sim.
Banner image: This image was captured during an investigation into the first reported Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV) case in Haramout, Yemen. The study was led by Field Epidemiology Training Program (FETP) residents. In this particular view, veterinarian, Hasan Alkaf, DVM, is shown extracting blood samples from a camel’s neck, as the animal was held in check by an assistant. The FETP trains workers on the ground to help countries build sustainable capacity for detecting and responding to health threats / Credit: Center for Disease Control / Unsplash.