One Health approach to prevent emergence of zoonotic pathogens

Azlan Othman

In light of the continuing threats to public health posed by the emergence of diseases and new COVID-19 variants, the ASEAN Centre for Biodiversity (ACB) and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) are looking to strengthen capacities in mainstreaming biodiversity into health frameworks and systems.

The ACB and the FAO signed an agreement to strengthen collaboration among ministries of natural resource management, forestry, and wildlife in ASEAN, under the One Health approach, in the broad aim of preventing the spillover and emergence of infectious zoonotic pathogens at the source.

One Health is a collaborative approach across sectors and disciplines with the goal of achieving optimal health outcomes cognizant of the interconnection between people, animals, plants, and their shared environment.

“The crisis brought by the COVID-19 pandemic shed light on how our public health and wellbeing relies on healthy ecosystems and rich biodiversity. This partnership is timely as we gear towards recovery from the pandemic and build our long-term resilience from similar crises,” ACB Executive Director Theresa Mundita Lim said.

Lim said considering the rich biological diversity of ASEAN, it is important that the region is cognizant of the relevance of this natural wealth in reducing the risk of future pandemics, considering there may still be around 1.7 million viruses believed to be found in various species of mammals and birds, and up to half of these could become infectious to humans.

“We are entering an era of pandemics, as scientists have earlier warned, and tackling ever-changing challenges requires an integrated and holistic approach, one that pays due attention to our shared environment,” Lim said.

The number of Omicron cases rose exponentially across the world, causing further impacts on lives and economies.

Responding to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the ASEAN member states (AMS) – comprising Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam – adopted during the 37th ASEAN Summit in 2020 the ASEAN Comprehensive Recovery Framework (ACRF).

The ACRF provides a blueprint to guide collaboration action among partners, including ecosystem-based approaches to increase resilience from future pandemics, and continuous promotion to mainstream biodiversity across relevant sectors.

Under the agreement between the ACB and the FAO, a regional implementation plan that will be developed will complement existing cooperation among ASEAN and other relevant bodies.

The ACB will likewise work with the FAO on the two virtual learning centre training modules currently being developed and aimed to promote the importance of biodiversity, ecosystems, and the environment among the veterinary and public health sectors.

The ACB is an intergovernmental organisation facilitating cooperation and coordination among the 10 AMS on the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity and the fair and equitable sharing of benefits arising from the use of such natural treasures.