Science is becoming more specialised – a trend which must continue. However, the danger is losing broad themes and the big picture.
The Ebola epidemics of the turn of the century brought this problem into focus. Experts found that narrow expertise was insufficient to contain the disease. Later, people feared the outbreak of swine and bird flu pandemics.
Resolving these problems required the efforts not only of physicians and veterinarians, but also of environmental experts, for new diseases can often stem from a change in the environment.
Teaching environmental health to veterinary students
Originally from the United States, the One Health initiative strives to resolve the problem of narrow specialisations, explains Professor Marja-Liisa Hänninen of the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine. It emphasises “one health” instead of separate human, animal and environmental health.
Air pollution, climate change and other changes in the environment directly impact both humans and animals: species go extinct or spread to new areas. Another example is diseases that spread from animals to humans – Ebola being but one example.
“It’s important and necessary to have a framework that encourages us to look at the big picture and to engage in interdisciplinary cooperation,” Hänninen notes.
She teaches environmental health to veterinary students, so she approaches veterinary medicine from an interdisciplinary perspective.
The concept of One Health is new, but the observations and reflections behind it are not; research comparing humans and animals dates back more than 100 years.
“It’s like reinventing the wheel,” Hänninen says.
Rescue dogs on a brand new video
The One Health initiative and concept have taken root in many places, including the World Bank. Environmental problems and epidemics play a major role in national economies, as the current Ebola epidemic shows. Although Ebola may soon be contained in Sierra Leone and Liberia, its social impact will remain visible for a long time.
One Health is the topic of the video published by the University today on 2 February entitled Countless Creatures, One Health: Five Fascinating Facts about Your Bond with Nature.