Dr Prejit Nambiar is OHDI’s One Health Professional for the month of August 2021!
Dr Prejit Nambiar (MVSC, Ph. D) is the Director-in-Charge of Centre for One Health Education, Advocacy, Research and Training (COHEART) of Kerala Veterinary and Animal Sciences University, INDIA. He also serves as Assistant Professor in the Department of Veterinary Public Health and course director of PG Diploma and Certificate course in One Health offered by the university. He completed his PhD in Veterinary Public Health from India’s premier research institute, IVRI, Bareilly, UP. Dr Prejit has received various national awards for his contribution to the field of public health. This includes the G.P Sen Endowment award at AIVPHS Conference, Best presentation award at the National world rabies day seminar, Dr SP Singh Best research paper award, ICFMH Travel grant to attend Food Micro 2012 at Istanbul-Turkey, International Society for Infectious Diseases travel grant to attend South Asia Regional Collaboration Workshop on One Health at Nepal, Young scientist award at X IAVPHS conference on “One health initiative in addressing food safety challenges” etc. He is also the recipient of the “Outstanding One Health Case Study Award” during the ISDS 2015 conference held in Denver, Colorado, US. He has published more than 30 scientific articles in national and international journals. He also serves as an advisor for the International Journal of One Health and extensively writes and lectures on Zoonotic Diseases and food safety. His special interest is in propagating and implementing the One Health concepts in India through COHEART www.coheart.ac.in. Through COHEART, he also hosts a thriving and interesting YouTube Channel – Dr COHEART that provides public education and awareness on different One Health topics.
We had the opportunity to hold this interview with him where he provided very interesting insights into his work experiences and perceptions of the One Health movement
Interviewer: Dr Prejit, please introduce yourself to us and tell us about your profession, including your past and current experience in One Health.
Dr Prejit: Hello, my name is Prejit and I am a veterinarian specialized in Veterinary Public Health. I have been working in a Faculty in Kerala Veterinary and Animal Sciences University since 2008. Now for the past 7 years, I am leading the Centre for One Health Education, Advocacy, Research and Training in the University.
Interviewer: Thanks so much for the succinct introduction! Could you please tell us why you chose to get involved in One Health and why you think this is important?
Dr Prejit: I chose to get involved in the field of One Health (OH) as I consider it as an ultimate approach to responding to health threats at Human-animal-environment interfaces by establishing a cross-sectoral collaboration. I’ve always been interested to learn more about the environment, zoonotic diseases, animals, animal welfare and the risk and threat that we all face. Over the years, I have realized that there has always been an increasing trend of incidence of zoonotic diseases in society and the competencies we have in veterinary science alone cannot curtail such threat. This made us perceive that such zoonotic disease threats should be addressed collectively through One Health. But the real challenge is to get all those experts in one platform and that was how we thought of offering courses on OH that is open to all. We were successful to sensitize almost all professionals in health sectors to OH. Also, I had the opportunity to co-pioneer in the drive for our University to establish the country’s first Centre for One Health and carry out advocacy activities in One Health. In fact, One Health has become more important today due to changes in the environment and damages caused by the current pandemic. Not only zoonoses, some of the global issues that the One Health approach fits well are threats associated with antimicrobial resistance, food safety, environmental contamination, biodiversity loss, ecosystem function degradation and emerging infectious diseases. For me, One Health does not simply focus on health but also on the overall well-being of all species on this planet.
Interviewer: You mentioned earlier that you are involved with COHEART. Please tell us about COHEART, why it was set up and what are the core goals of the organization?
Dr Prejit: COHEART was set up by the Veterinary University –Kerala Veterinary and Animal Sciences University – in the year 2014, and was established following the recommendation of the workshop on curriculum development of One Health courses. The delegates in the workshop felt the need to establish a One Health centre to set a foundation for integrating disciplines for preventing disease and protecting public health worldwide. As the disease can easily cross national boundaries, setting up a One Health centre can cater for the needs of preventing disease locally as soon as it originates. Thus to ensure that people and animals are protected from harmful diseases, we set up this centre to work together to implement One Health practices. The centre is called COHEART because the activity of the centre is focused on OH Education, Advocacy, Research and Training. The goal of the institute is to support the sustainable health of man, animals and its surrounding environment through leadership, partnership, research and training in One Health domains. I have also designed the centre’s logo with a catchy acronym “COHEART“ dedicated for One Health- which I consider as a concept embedded in the philosophy of “co-existence”. The logo shows “C” depicting collaboration and “O” with globe” depicting One Health as a global movement and the Heart formed by hands of Man and Animal embedded in leaf symbolizing intimate relationship of Man and Animal with their environment. And our university’s logo is depicted in the form of SUN whose rays goes beyond any obvious benefits being the creator of this centre.
Interviewer: That is a wonderful description! Please mention some of the most important achievements of COHEART in propagating and implementing One Health in India.
Dr Prejit: COHEART has launched India’s first PG Cert and diploma courses concentrating on One Health. Similar courses are now replicated in other Universities in India. We have also released a documentary on “One Health for Man, animals and Environment, way back in 2014 that clearly explains the concept thereby sensitizing our people here. We have also organized several National level training and capacity building programmes on One Health. We have also won the Outstanding One Health surveillance award during the ISDS conference in the USA. We are the regional spokesperson for One Health day instituted by One Health Commission, US. COHEART is also identified as an Indian point of contact for International Student for One Health Alliance. We have also launched the Students for One health campaign in India and short term mentorship programmes for students. On the theme of One Health, we have organized several competitions for students and key thing is that we identified One Health little angels in primary school who can take forward little messages on OH. We have participated and contributed in several OH deliberation across the world that also involves creating a South Asian One Health disease surveillance networks. Our future projects are “Biosurveillance for Henipaviruses and Filoviruses in Rural India” where we will be collaborating with a Medical University and Ecohealth alliance. We will soon be collaborating with UNDP to scale up One Health in India. All our activities are detailed in the book “The COHEART Journey” which was released and launched by the Honorable Governor of Kerala.
Interviewer: How has COHEART been able to foster stakeholder inter-sectoral and multidisciplinary action to achieve these? Please provide examples.
Dr Prejit: Following the establishment of COHEART, we got into an informal partnership with the state Health and animal husbandry department. Our approach was to sensitize stakeholders on the One Health approach and by this, we were able to bring together stakeholders from various departments to respond to certain needs-based threats. For example, when Kyasannur forest diseases were first reported in the district, we contacted the health, animal husbandry and forest department and conducted a stakeholder meeting, which helped us to develop an integrated disease management protocol of action. The action plan was issued by the district administrator who took the lead to coordinate the response. We also organized a stakeholder workshop for the state on how to implement OH and the importance of OH governance.
Interviewer: What do you think are the challenges facing the One Health movement globally and especially, India?
Dr Prejit: The most common challenge of the One Health movement is breaking the silos and reaching out to other disciplines and content. This is more challenging, especially because over the years we have organized ourselves along different disciplines and domains of expertise. We now have to get all the relevant stakeholders along as a team and discuss the complexity of the world that we live in and consider the interconnectedness of humans, animals and the environment.
If you see, the planet now supports a human population of nearly 8 billion, and this number is projected to grow to 10 billion by 2050. That growth has caused humans to expand into previously uninhabited areas and to come into closer and more frequent contact with animals both wild and domestic. In India, especially, the living standards of people or GDP per capita has improved. This in another way indicates that people are having more money to purchase protein-rich food. So there is an exponential growth in meat demand. Such demand for animal protein has been facilitated by the expansion of intensive farming of food animals (factory farming/ industrial production). All this creates an ideal atmosphere for health challenges for both man and animals just like the current COVID pandemic
Interviewer: What do you think are the solutions to these challenges?
Dr Prejit: The best solution to these challenges is governments owning One Health approaches to implement systems that track diseases in animals as well as humans. Experts should collaborate in a transdisciplinary approach that integrates society and science by including all stakeholders so that we can combat the fear of emerging pandemics, as well as climate change, drug resistance, food and water security and safety. The One Health concept is endorsed and advocated by both national and international organizations. Today, we have examples where One Health has shown financial, economic, social, environmental, and health gains. The world now has an official body called One Health High-Level Expert Panel (OHHEP) and we need to tap their experience in setting up One Health Governance. Next, we have to formulate a road map towards One Health implementation at the state or country levels. But beyond that, the government and inter-ministerial representatives need to engage with the community and local society, in particular, to understand its impact on key societal issues of the challenges. Once this is taken up, I am very sure that we will be addressing the threats of the 21st century in the best possible way. In India, we already have an action plan for Avian Influenza, AMR etc that are adopting One Health practices and can bring about drastic changes in the way we handle the challenges. The current pandemic has made us all re-think about One Health and seek its implementation.
Interviewer: So we have discussed the major part of the interview, I’d like to pose to you a question now – if you were omnipotent for a day and you have the ability to make changes to various One Health issues, what would you tackle first? What would your priorities be?
Dr Prejit: I believe the first change should come from me. I will change myself from an ego (human) centric way of viewing health to an eco (ecological) centric way considering that we are all part of this big system. Next, I will continue sensitizing health professionals to work together on the challenges of the 21st century and devote my focus to disease epidemiology in wild animals so that we can tackle the disease before it spills out from its natural geography. Surveillance of disease in wildlife coupled with exploring the use of the Internet of things and artificial intelligence and participatory surveillance and reporting disease will be my next priorities. Although wildlife has been implicated in all recent emerging infectious diseases, the problem is that this area is less explored mainly because the responsibility is rather diffuse. So my focus will be to ensure a healthy ecosystem and wild animals. In this way, we will be prepared for the next pandemic. I know it’s challenging to work with wildlife and I am absolutely new to this field, But If we get people to work together collaboratively, then we are not too far from reaching this goal.
Interviewer: Thank you, Dr Prejit for your time. This was a really interesting interview.
Dr Prejit: Thank you, it’s my pleasure.