World Health Day: 5 Ways Countries are Embracing One Health for a Safer Planet

One Health” is an approach that recognizes the interdependence between people, animals (both wild and livestock), and our shared environment. As awareness of the dangers of zoonotic diseases—those that jump from animals to people—has grown, so too has momentum for coordinating efforts among sectors.

On March 27, 2023, four United Nations agencies issued a joint call to action recognizing zoonotic diseases, antimicrobial resistance, ecosystem degradation, and climate change as “pressing and complex challenges facing our society” and listing seven actions for nations to prioritize that will build resilient health systems and embed the One Health approach into policy.

Though awareness of the approach is growing, collaboration between the animal and human health sectors is still nascent in many countries. Formal systems are needed to prevent, detect, track, and respond to zoonotic disease outbreaks—and the best time to respond is before new animal diseases spill over to humans. USAID’s Infectious Disease Detection and Surveillance (IDDS) project supports more than 20 countries in Asia and Africa where there are significant gaps in health systems’ ability to detect, monitor, and rapidly respond to infectious diseases and drug-resistant infections that pose a major threat to public health and global health security.

Here are five ways that IDDS-supported countries are already responding to the United Nations’ call to action:

  1. Strengthening national One Health policies, strategies, and plans
    In 2020, IDDS supported the government of Indonesia to establish the One Health Coordination Working Group, which aims to support the government in handling emerging infectious diseases through cross-sectoral collaboration and coordination nationally and locally. In 2021, the One Health Coordination Working Group was formally legalized under the Deputy Decree of the Coordinating Minister.In Mali, IDDS supported One Health committee meetings convened by the National Institute of Public Health. The meetings provide a forum for discussing strategies to strengthen community laboratory systems, study antimicrobial resistance in health care settings, and implement quality control across sectors.
  2. Accelerating the implementation of One Health plans
    In Uganda, IDDS operationalized the country’s One Health Strategic Plan by assembling and training District One Health Teams (DOHTs) in Mbale and Kazo districts, which have experienced several zoonotic disease outbreaks in the last five years. Prior to the launch of the DOHTs, many of the human health officials had never spoken to veterinary officials in the districts. Now, the DOHTs meet monthly to share data and strategize to prepare for a future outbreak. When there is an active outbreak, the DOHTs meet weekly to share new developments, coordinate their response, and prevent the outbreak from spreading.According to Musa Sekamatte, the national One Health coordinator, “with this implementation plan in place, we can now move the One Health concept from national-level meetings to actual One Health practice at a community level.”
  3. Building intersectoral One Health workforces
    A One Health approach can be instrumental in improving detection of antimicrobial resistance in humans and food-producing animals, which occurs when pathogens become resistant to the medicines we use to treat them. In Cameroon, IDDS assisted the National Public Health Laboratory to implement a pilot program to improve surveillance of these deadly superbugs by focusing on improving testing at seven bacteriology laboratories. The pilot implemented new standard operating procedures and provided supervision to laboratory staff, to ensure that the standards for laboratory testing were harmonized for both human and animal specimens.
  4. Preventing pandemics and health threats at their sources
    To prevent disease spillovers from animal populations to humans, investments in land conservation and biodiversity protection, sustainable agriculture, and climate mitigation are urgently needed. At the same time, health services need to be located closer to potential disease hotspots where humans have close contact with wild animals and livestock. In Uganda, clinicians and veterinarians sometimes wait a long time for laboratory results to be returned from centrally located laboratories that can perform testing on human and animal specimens. To reduce these turnaround times, IDDS focused on empowering regional laboratory staff to conduct testing at their facilities.
  5. Integrating information and data across health sectors
    Real-time disease reporting systems provide visibility across health sectors and inform policies and decisions in emergency situations. In Indonesia, IDDS works to improve the operations and development of the country’s integrated health information system, which is interoperable among three sectors (human, animal, and wildlife). In 2019, the system was piloted to detect rabies in four provinces (North Sulawesi, West Kalimantan, Riau, and Central Java).Vietnam also has an online disease reporting system designed to enable real-time reporting of animal diseases, but it was barely being used prior to IDDS support. With IDDS technical support, in June 2020, five Vietnamese provinces started reporting, and by December 2021, all of Vietnam’s 63 provinces were successfully reporting disease outbreak data through the online system. In 2022, provinces reported 185 outbreaks, including outbreaks of African swine fever, lumpy skin disease, and rabies.

Since the causes of zoonotic disease emergence are known, there are opportunities to intervene before local outbreaks become global pandemics. To contain outbreaks, the human and animal health sectors must be able to work together, and act quickly based on the available evidence across all levels of government. Initiatives like IDDS stand ready to support countries in accelerating their efforts to bring a coordinated, multi-sectoral approach to disease detection and surveillance.

ICF leads a consortium of organizations to implement IDDS. The views expressed here are the authors’ and do not necessarily reflect the views of USAID or the U.S. government.


Emily Nink is a senior health technical writer at ICF.






Robert Salerno is a director of global security at ICF.





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