UN Environment Programme joins alliance to implement One Health approach

F.P. Report

GENEVA: Work to tackle the challenges of human, animal and ecosystem health using a more integrated approach has seen significant progress in the past year, leaders of three international organizations cooperating across these sectors said, as they expanded their group to include a fourth body, the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

At its annual executive meeting this week, the Tripartite partnership for One Health, bringing together the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), formally became the Quadripartite as it signed a Memorandum of Understanding with UNEP.

The One Health approach aims to sustainably balance and optimize the health of people, animals, ecosystems and the wider environment. It mobilizes multiple sectors, disciplines and communities to work together to foster well-being and tackle threats to health and ecosystems. And it addresses the collective need for clean water, energy and air, safe and nutritious food, action on climate change, and contributing to sustainable development.

“We are stronger with UNEP joining the Tripartite, FAO Director-General QU Dongyu said, adding: “UNEP is already active in relevant areas of Tripartite work.” The Memorandum of Understanding notes that UNEP “sets the environmental agenda and promotes the coherent implementation of the environmental dimension of sustainable development within the UN system, and serves as an authoritative advocate for the global environment.”

The work of the newly expanded alliance will be focused on a One Health Joint Plan of Action, which includes six main action tracks: enhancing countries’ capacity to strengthen health systems under a One Health approach; reducing the risks from emerging or resurfacing zoonotic epidemics and pandemics; controlling and eliminating endemic zoonotic, neglected tropical or vector-borne diseases; strengthening the assessment, management and communication of food safety risks; curbing the silent pandemic of antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and better integrating the environment into the One Health approach.

Plan implementation the key challenge

As FAO handed over the rotating chair of the secretariat to WHO, Director-General Qu noted the past year’s substantial progress in efforts to collectively develop the action plan and added: “Now the challenge is implementation: how do we translate our work on the ground to support our Members? And how do we mobilize funding and financing mechanisms to support the Joint Plan for Action?”

In his opening remarks, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said: “We need to build a more comprehensive and coordinated One Health governance structure at global level. We need a strong workforce, committed political will, and sustained financial investment. We need to develop a more proactive way of communicating and engaging across sectors, disciplines and communities to elicit the change we need.”

Monique Eloit, OIE Director General acknowledged the key milestone of the MoU with UNEP, saying: “Today, I am particularly pleased that our Tripartite collaboration is expanded to include UNEP as an equal partner. Its mandate, expertise and networks will provide an important contribution to advance One Health. This new chapter in our partnership will make us stronger and more prepared to serve our members and address global health challenges”.

UNEP’s Executive Director Inger Andersen said: “What is apparent to everyone involved in One Health is that no one sector can solve the many problems we face alone. To secure human, animal and environment health – to secure the very future of this planet – we need more collaboration and partnerships. We need to stand together and work together if we are to thrive together. UNEP, as the newest full member of the Alliance, is ready to do its part as an equal partner.”

Increased awareness of One Health

As the world enters the third year of the COVID-19 pandemic, with an estimated cost of $8 to 16 trillion, there is increased awareness and broad recognition of the importance of One Health as a long-term, viable and sustainable approach. And it is also now firmly anchored on the global agenda, from the G7 and G20 to the UN Food Systems Summit.  To support a global One Health Coalition, a One Health Commitment was registered at the UN Food Systems Summit, aimed at building engagement across sectors, disciplines, and all levels of society. This commitment will help shape national agrifood systems transformation pathways as part of the Summit follow-up.

Last year saw the Tripartite also implement a number of other initiatives on One Health including on Anti-Microbial Resistance. The One Health High-Level Expert Panel had an important scientific advisory role. One Health Regional Platforms were strengthened and new ones initiated to share information and best practices. Important progress was also made in establishing a Joint Framework on AMR, a Global Leaders’ Group on AMR, and in work towards an AMR Multi-stakeholder Partnership Platform, mobilizing resources and action to fight antimicrobial resistance that threatens the lives of millions. These achievements reflect the successful cooperation between the Tripartite and UNEP which has now reached an important new milestone with the signature of a formal collaboration agreement.