ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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Challenges to Adopting Global Strategies for Tackling Zoonotic Diseases

Whither One Health in India?

The COVID-19 pandemic has sharply brought into focus how intrusions into natural landscapes are not just environmental concerns, but are also intricately entangled with public health. Little attention has been paid to systemic causes such as large-scale biodiversity loss that underlie the emergence and re-emergence of these diseases. Institutional networks of public and animal health in India that are involved in the surveillance and control of zoonoses are outlined herein. It is shown that the lack of a systematic framework that explicitly involves institutions that manage biodiversity and wildlife health leads to gaps in operationalising a One Health framework in India. Addressing these lacunae requires a supra-ministerial mechanism that brings together public health, ecology, and veterinary and social sciences to combat the threats posed by existing and emerging zoonoses.

The importance of biodiversity in sustaining the planet is widely accepted. However, any discussion of its critical role in supporting public health was largely confined to some specialised circles, until 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic produced a potent example that no one could possibly ignore. Zoonotic diseases, that is, diseases that humans and animals contract from each other (WHO-FAO-OIE 2019), are on the rise (UNEP-ILRI 2020), and are often directly linked to the degradation of biodiversity caused by large-scale incursions into natural ecosystems (WHO-CBD 2015; Berthe et al 2018). The risk of zoonoses incidence increases in human-dominated ecosystems (Gibb et al 2020), and the loss of biodiversity is known to exacerbate the risk of disease emergence (Halliday et al 2020). Because zoonoses operate at the interface between humans and animals, in farmed as well as natural environments (UNEP-ILRI 2020), and have an impact on not just health, but also other developmental factors, such as education and livelihoods (Berthe et al 2018; Purse et al 2020), combating it falls across the domains of multiple governmental actors and agencies.

Across the world, zoonotic diseases pose a public health threat with a billion cases and a million deaths each year (Berthe et al 2018). India is a global hotspot for zoonotic diseases (Allen et al 2017). The plague has killed 12 million people since 1898, rabies cause about 20,000 deaths a year, while brucellosis in cattle and buffaloes is estimated to cause annual losses to the extent of about ₹24 million (NCDC 2016). A vast majority of the population interacts closely with livestock and wild animals, and is poorly serviced by public and veterinary healthcare facilities (NCDC 2016; Purse et al 2020). Tackling zoonoses, therefore, is not just a public health crisis, but also a broader governance concern because it demands hitherto unprecedented collaboration across administrative domains.

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Updated On : 24th Dec, 2020

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