The One Health approach could help us face Disease X better. Photo by National Cancer Institute - Unsplash
By Assoc. Prof. Dr. Rafdzah Ahmad Zaki

DISEASE X is a term used to describe a potential disease-causing pathogen, capable of triggering widespread and severe pandemics that can lead to extensive human suffering. It represents an unknown threat, a hypothetical pathogen that could spark a significant epidemic in the future.

The rise and re-emergence of infectious diseases in recent decades have led experts to predict that Disease X is likely to be a zoonotic disease. Zoonotic diseases are those transmitted from animals to humans and constitute a considerable threat to our well-being. About 3 out of every 4 new or emerging infectious diseases originate from animals.

Examples of such zoonotic diseases include well-known names like COVID-19, Nipah virus, dengue, malaria, rabies, Zika virus, Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV), and Ebola.

The emergence of zoonotic diseases is driven by an imbalance in the interactions between hosts, pathogens (the organisms causing diseases), and the environment. Major contributing factors to this imbalance encompass human behaviour, the effects of global warming, deforestation, and the increased mobility of people around the world.

The concept of One Health, which recognizes the interconnectedness of human, animal, and environmental health, emerged in the early 2000s in response to the emergence of new zoonotic diseases and the growing awareness of the role of environmental factors in the spread of disease.

In 2004, the Wildlife Conservation Society held a symposium to discuss the concept of One Health, and in 2008, six international organizations released a joint Strategic Framework, “Contributing to One World, One Health: A Strategic Framework for Reducing Risks of Infectious Diseases at the Animal-Human-Ecosystems Interface”. In 2016, the World Health Organization (WHO) launched its One Health Strategy, which aims to strengthen the collaboration between human and animal health sectors to achieve better health outcomes for people, animals, and the environment.

The One Health approach brings together experts from diverse fields, including human health, veterinary medicine, virology, and environmental science. Experts from various fields should collaborate to monitor disease threats, detect outbreaks at an early stage, and implement measures to prevent disease transmission. Early detection of pathogens in animals, especially in wildlife, provides an opportunity to intervene before the disease spreads to humans.

For example, ecologists play a pivotal role by monitoring ecosystems that may act as reservoirs for diseases, while wildlife experts identify and study these reservoirs to understand how diseases spread in wildlife populations and assess the risk of transmission to domestic animals and humans. Healthcare professionals and veterinarians are important in disease surveillance and management in human and animal populations.

Policymakers also have a critical role to play. They are responsible for creating, implementing, and advocating for policies that support collaborative and holistic approaches to disease prevention, environmental conservation, and public health. Lastly, communities can make significant contributions to disease prevention through awareness campaigns and responsible practices.

The One Health approach offers a powerful strategy for preventing Disease X. It can help preventing spillover of infection from wildlife to humans. By recognizing the interconnectedness of human, animal, and environmental health, and by fostering collaboration among diverse stakeholders, we can better prepare for and respond to the threats posed by Disease X.


*The author is a Public Health Medicine Specialist and Head, Centre for Epidemiology and Evidence-based Practice (CEBP), Faculty of Medicine, Universiti Malaya. She may be reached at [email protected]

(This is the personal opinion of the writer or publication and does not necessarily represent the views of BebasNews.)

— BebasNews

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