Applying the ‘One Health’ Approach in Bangladesh

Photo Credit: Heifer International

Newton’s Third Law states, “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction”. If that is truly the case then it should also be relevant to interactions between people and the environment. Thus the way we treat our environment today reflects our health tomorrow.

According to the World Health Organization, 75 per cent of newly originated infectious diseases affecting people originate from animals. Clearly the state of our environment affects animals and in turn affects us; cohabitating in the same environment, we cannot avoid this dependency.

What is ‘One Health’ approach?

Veterinary specialist Calvin Schwabe from the 19th century first used the term ‘One Medicine’ in his book where he highlighted that human and animal health are interdependent. During the Ebola outbreak in Africa in 2003, an article was published in the Washington Post by researcher Rick Weiss where he used the term ‘One Health.’ He stated, “Health can’t be discussed in isolation any more as the solution requires human, livestock and wildlife to work together”. Since then, the term ‘One Health’ has been defined in different ways, but the core concept remains the same: the health of people is connected to the health of animals and to the environment as well. 

How is it being applied already?

Globally, we can already see results from applying the ‘One Health’ concept to public health frameworks and policies. For instance, to reduce infectious diseases among people and animals living in the same environment, a strategic framework titled ‘Contributing to One World, One Health’ was initiated by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in 2008. A World Bank Report in 2012 even found that applying this approach had several economic benefits.

Additionally the concept was applied in a resolution on antimicrobial resistance (AMR), which was endorsed at the World Health Assembly in 2014. This led the WHO to develop a global action plan to combat antimicrobial resistance, which was finally adopted during the World Health Assembly in 2015. Thus, at the global level, the ‘One Health’ concept has already been recognized as an approach that looks at health and policy more comprehensively.

How can ‘One Health’ be applied in Bangladesh?

Similar to many other countries, AMR is an emerging threat to Bangladesh, which leads us to question whether the ‘One Health’ concept could also be applied in the local context. Challenges faced in Bangladesh to address AMR include the widespread availability of prescription drugs, irrational use, and lack of awareness, legislation and a national surveillance system. But these are only one side of the coin; the high population density, vulnerable food-security and safety, close contact to animals, and environmental degradation are the other side.

Overall, this indicates the urgency to uphold the ‘One Health’ approach in Bangladesh’s health policy framework, not only in the case of AMR but all other emerging public health problems.  It is high time for policy influencers to wake up and take initiatives to address these situations and also consider the ‘One Health’ approach for the task.

This blog was written by Dr Nahitun Naher, a research fellow at Centre for Universal Health Coverage at BRAC School of Public Health.                   


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