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How the scientific approach of One Health can help prevent the next pandemic

The UAF One Health Research Center brings together experts from a wide array of disciplines to...
The UAF One Health Research Center brings together experts from a wide array of disciplines to confront complex environmental heath problems.(One Health Research Center)
Published: Apr. 12, 2021 at 5:11 PM AKDT
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FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) - One Health is described as a transdisciplinary scientific movement, with the goal of achieving optimal outcomes of health for humans and the planet. A defining characteristic of One Health is said to be its focus on the interconnectedness of people, animals, plants, and the shared environment. Advocates believe this mode of research is of particular importance in the ever-changing modern world, in which new technology can have unpredictable effects on ancient natural status quos.

Dr. Arleigh Reynolds, Director of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Center for One Health research discussed the utility of One Health in confronting modern scientific problems, such as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is a big One Health issue. I think it’s a miracle of modern medicine, probably the miracle of our lifetime that within a year of the time of this pandemic racing around the globe, we have vaccines that can put it to rest. But having those vaccines won’t help us understand why this pandemic happened in the first place, and how we can predict where the next one will happen, and how to get that one under control,” said Reynolds.

One of the goals of One Health is understanding the ways that humanity is impacting the environment, and how that impact is affecting the way that wildlife interacts with our domestic animals. This complex interaction, if mishandled, can spread zoonotic diseases, meaning illnesses that are transferred from animals to people.

“The way we do our agriculture where we really pack animals in closely together really supports the spread and transfer of those viruses or bacteria - in this case it’s a virus -and then the way we move around the globe, the way our social and cultural and political actions occur,” said Reynolds.

The complexities and interconnectedness of these systems and problems requires the mastery of multiple disciplines in order to confront them. Reynolds says the interdisciplinary approach to problem solving that One Health embodies seeks to treat root causes of health problems.

“When we can get a bunch of people together at the table that know a lot about climate, about human diseases, animal diseases, ecology, economics... all of a sudden we can understand these problems not just from a deep perspective but from a broad perspective, and start working at the root cause of problems rather than treating the outcome. The vaccine is great, it treats the outcome - but it’s not gonna keep us from having the next pandemic, and that’s what One Health allows us to actually work on,” said Reynolds.

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