Elevating the One Health Approach and Saving Lives

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Feb 03, 2020
by Claire Kidwell
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Elevating the One Health Approach and Saving Lives

Veterinary pathologist Tracey S. McNamara on advocating for a species neutral approach Tracey S. McNamara at Salzburg Global Seminar

“All bets are off. It’s time for every diagnostician, whether in human or wildlife or agricultural species, to strip away those preconceptions and then go that extra step and think, what if this is something new?”

That’s the approach veterinary pathologist Tracey S. McNamara took when she discovered the West Nile Virus in flamingos in 1999. An advocate for One Health, McNamara spoke at Salzburg Global Seminar while joining other experts to help craft new forecasting tools and metrics to prevent pandemics.

McNamara said the decision to hold another program with Ending Pandemics and focus on something other than humans was in itself “a big mark of success” and lends weight to the One Health approach.

“One Health is all about breaking down the silos between human health, agricultural species of economic value and free-ranging wildlife and then everything else that doesn’t fall under any federal agencies’ jurisdiction,” says McNamara.

McNamara, who is also a professor of pathology at Western University of Health Sciences College of Veterinary Medicine, indicates there’s no reason people in the public health sector should be ignoring wildlife diseases. She says, “They look at the power of these agricultural agencies and just assume, ‘Oh, they must have it all taken care of.’ And that’s not the case.”

Governments tend to barely look at wildlife, according to McNamara, and instead focus on epidemiology in animals with economic value, such as cows, pigs, and chickens. She says, “That means that although wildlife has been implicated in all recent emerging infectious diseases, the problem is no one owns wildlife… the responsibility is rather diffuse, and [wildlife doesn’t] have any monetary economic value compared to a cow.”

Security and defense have emerged during the discussions in Salzburg, and it is evident why McNamara has an interest. She served as a consultant to the National Biosurveillance Advisory Subcommittee.

McNamara says, “I think the Department of Defense is way ahead of everybody else… a lot of these innovations and surveillance and diagnostic testing are coming from the defense arena, and we just have to apply them to these different sectors.”

If a similar level of funding was available for the wildlife sector, McNamara suggests more progress could be made. “If you don’t start funding the wildlife sector and making it possible to do wildlife disease surveillance, then we may as well all just close up shop and go home because nothing will change.”

McNamara still holds hope other government agencies across the world will broaden their scope when assessing how diseases and pandemics spread. She recommends pushing the epidemiologic curve further to the left and that governments should find emerging diseases in animals “before they spill over into humans.” She adds, “Or even further to the left and finally start incorporating climate and meteorological data to help us predict and truly get ahead of disease outbreaks, that I’ve been waiting for that for 20 years. So if that happens, that’ll be a huge outcome of this meeting.”

One benefit of this program, according to McNamara, is having participants present knowledge about climate and environmental factors. She says, “That’s a very important outcome of this meeting, to have had representatives from the environmental sector. And to see what they can contribute because I think that really it’s the answer. If we can really shift the epi curve to the far left by using environmental data, it’ll be the best way to save lives, the best way to save money. I mean, it’s the way to go.”

For those yet to get fully behind the One Health approach, McNamara has a warning. “I would tell them that if they personally would not mind being the index case of the next pandemic, well then fine. I’ll shut up and stop talking about this. But that’s the bottom line. People have to admit that we are using taxpayers as sentinels.”

For a summary of the program, download our 12-page newsletter, featuring illustrations, interviews, and insights.


The Salzburg Global Seminar Program, Finding Outbreaks Faster: Metrics for One Health Surveillance, is part of the Finding Outbreaks Faster multi-year series. This series and program is held in partnership with Ending Pandemics.