Written by Iyiola Oladunjoye and Oluwatunmise Aiyedogbon
Within the span of 13 months, the health sector has received more attention than it did for some time back. And why is this? Because a new threat had come to take its toll on humans and this threat was recognized to be a family of the enveloped positive-sense RNA viruses; coronaviruses. So many scientists believe this virus (SARS-CoV-2) originated from an animal after the consumption of such animal or indirect contact of its blood into any opening (especially bats and pangolins as its reservoir hosts). Such diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans and vice versa are referred to as zoonoses. Zoonoses transmission and prevalence is a major public health issue that needs to be tackled. As such, public health professionals, biomedical scientists and veterinarians have prioritized the One Health approach as a progressive solution to this detrimental issue amongst other issues such as climate change, biodiversity loss and antimicrobial resistance to be tackled early enough before the emergence of a future pandemic.
What is One Health?
One Health is an innovative global wide approach that aims to foster collaboration and communication in all aspects of human, animal and environmental health harmoniously. The history of One Health runs as far back as the 19th century when Dr. Rudolf Virchow, a German pathologist keen about the linkage between human medicine and veterinary science, which stemmed from his study of roundworm pathogen Trichinella spiralis in swine. This idea was further promulgated by Dr. Williams Osler, the father of Veterinary Pathology. Towards the 21st Century, One Health started gaining massive recognition after Dr. Calvin Schwabe coined the term ‘One Medicine’ and called for a unified approach between human and veterinary medicine in tackling zoonoses. Ever since, the One Health approach has been adopted in health policies of several countries, including Nigeria towards tackling notable One Health issues of public health importance such as infectious diseases, antimicrobial resistance and zoonoses. This is evident with the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control’s policy documents – the One Health Strategic Plan and National Action Plan for Antimicrobial Resistance collaboratively written by the Federal Ministries of Health; Environment and Agriculture in coordination with the Nigerian Center for Diseases Control (NCDC)
The interconnection between the Human-Animal-Environmental health’s cannot be doubted any longer, because the health of animals has been seen to determine your human health outcomes and vice versa, same with that of the environment, unhealthy environment can harbor and proliferate harmful microorganisms and provide a suitable adaptive habitat for pathogen vectors. This is why the One Health, a collaborative, multi-sectoral and transdisciplinary approach that includes working with the human and animal health practitioners, bioscientists, and environmental experts is important to achieve the goal of sustainable health outcomes of every living organism and healthy planet as a whole.
Adoption of the One Health approach has been instrumental in tackling health issues at the human, animal and environmental interface including zoonotic diseases such as the Lassa Fever, West Nile Fever, Coronavirus, Avian influenza, and Ebola. One Health also aims in fighting antimicrobial resistance, implementing better food safety conditions and food security policy, eradicating Vector-borne diseases, environmental contamination and other human-animal-environmental threats that are microbiologically connected! Therefore, microbiology students must find it necessary to promote One Health.
What are the roles of Microbiology Students in One Health Advocacy?
Early-career microbiologists and students should be a part of the One Health movement because most of the health issues to be tackled as related to the Human-Animal-Environmental triad can be traced down to one common source “microorganisms” (be it bacteria, fungi, virus, protozoa, or algae). The dynamism of microbiologists cannot be underestimated because they are well placed for careers that seek to address cogent One Health issues in environmental microbiology, veterinary microbiology, food safety and compliance, infection and immunity research amongst others. This makes microbiologists indispensable in institutions seeking to address One Health issues. Therefore, early engagements of microbiology students in One Health activity is imperative to understand the importance of collaboration, coordination and cooperation that One Health seeks to achieve.
In a statement by the CDC’s One Health Director, Casey Barton Bahvresh, she reiterated that of all known infectious diseases in people, about 6 out of 10 can spread from animals. In addition, 3 in 4 nearly emerging diseases that are threatening humans originate from animals. These statistics show the risk of zoonotic diseases and that is why microbiology students should recognize the importance of working with other One Health relevant stakeholders to curb this menace, thereby reducing the global mortality and morbidity rates.
Some specific ways early-career microbiologists and students in Nigeria can participate in One Health include:
- Sensitization and Awareness: Microbiology students can facilitate One Health community-based projects target at increasing community and grassroots awareness about relevant issues about the risk of an unhealthy environment, the dangers of consuming antimicrobials indiscriminately, the importance of sanitation and hygiene for preventing infectious diseases and most importantly, demystify scientific myths and promote the adoption of vaccines among community residents. This can be carried out in collaboration with students from other disciplines. These projects can be targeted in communities identified to have specific One Health issues, by communicating their scientific learning in ways community residents would identify with, using different science communication strategies. Translation of scientific ideas to indigenous languages and the use of infographics are great ways to achieve this. A notable project facilitated by an early-career microbiologist in Nigeria aimed at advancing community waste management practices at a fish market in Ijora involved clean-up and environmental health awareness.
- Books and Journal Clubs: The Nigerian Association of Microbiology Students (NAMS) should work collaboratively with One Health Student Clubs in their respective institutions in setting-up or participating in book and journal clubs geared towards reviewing relevant articles in One Health. This would aid their understanding of relevant One Health matters and promote interdisciplinary thoughts and conversation amongst students. The International Students One Health Alliance (ISOHA) has a journal club on Facebook that students can actively participate in.
- Events and Conference Participation: In the wake of COVID-19 pandemic, many One Health virtual events and conferences have been organized and currently ongoing. Microbiology students can actively participate in these events, by presenting seminar topics in One Health from a microbial perspective. ISOHA’s calender update students on One Health-related events.
- Seek Relevant One Health Opportunities: There are abundant opportunities microbiology students can explore to champion the One Health approach locally and globally. Among these include the One Health and Development Initiative (OHDI) commenced an annual fellowship, the One Health Advocacy and Mentorship Programme. This is open to final year students and early-career professionals. Young individuals in microbiology-related disciplines can look forward to being a fellow of this programme. The One Health Lessons in collaboration with the International Students One Health Alliance (ISOHA) also seek undergraduate students to become certified One Health Lessons Leaders to virtually teach COVID-19/One Health lessons to children. There are many opportunities available for One Health volunteering and ISOHA keeps track of this on One Health Commission’s Bulletin Board and ISOHA map. Also, OHDI’s One Health Opportunities constantly gives an update of opportunities as well
Indeed, the planet, humans and animals are microbiologically-connected. This emphasizes the importance of microbiology-trainees to champion the One Health approach in their respective communities. In the process, gaining relevant skills and opportunities that would enable them to become fully-fledged microbiologists that can work collaboratively in a multidisciplinary setting and be instrumental in solving cogent One Health issues the world is faced with.
Iyiola Oladunjoye is an early-career microbiologist and the American Society for Microbiology’s Young Ambassador of Science to Nigeria. He recently completed the One Health Advocacy and Mentorship Programme facilitated by the One Health and Development Initiative and currently serves as an Educational Committee member of the International Students One Health Alliance. He champions the One Health approach by engaging in global public health research, community awareness & advocacy and grooming microbiology students to become active One Health advocates in Nigeria.
Oluwatummise Aiyedogbon is a final year student of Microbiology at Kogi State University and a One Health enthusiast. He is passionate about the Sustainable Development Goals, notably SDG-3 (Good Health and Well-Being). He is currently interning in the Food, Water and Laboratory Department at Oyo State Ministry of Health, Ibadan, Oyo State.