Taking a Planetary Health and One Health Approach to Public Health

As the global population grows and human innovations abound, the world becomes a smaller yet more complex place. With sufficient resources, one can get to almost any point in the world in some 48 hours. With this mobility, ideas and commerce move rapidly. Along with them, infections and vectors of disease hitchhike rides.  Nowhere is free of health-related ailments that are driven by multiple factors that include people and animals, and how we are interacting with or are affected by the environment.

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Within the past year alone, concern about transboundary infectious diseases outbreaks, food safety and security, and the impact of climate change on health has been omnipresent in the news.

  • Ebola, a virus that jumps from animal to people, and then among people, caused global panic
  • Zika, a virus that is spread by mosquitos and causes high rates of microcephaly, is causing much concern
  • Issues with Food safety caused many illnesses and deaths in the U.S. alone
  • Food security and water security remain critical issues in many parts of the world
  • Viruses that are preventable by low-cost vaccines are recurring in developed countries
  • Some “tropical diseases” are now seen in parts of the U.S.
  • The poor health of our environment is killing people.

Prominent among the initiatives to mitigate the ill-effects of globalization is the science of public health.  As demonstrated by many notable public health interventions such as diagnostic and screening tools, vaccination practices, and water quality standards, public health speaks to a collective commitment to disease prevention, health promotion and the preservation of life within healthy communities. Public health takes a systems-perspective to consider and address the factors that influence these outcomes.

One Health is a paradigm that takes public health a step further and helps practitioners focus on the multiple and inextricable relationships between humans, animals, and the environment, and the impact those relationships have on the health of populations. A One Health approach recognizes that in order to ensure the public’s health around the globe, we must work together and draw from the best practices of complementary disciplines (veterinary medicine, human medicine, environmental sciences, agricultural sciences, social sciences, etc.).

When public health issues arise, we must fully understand their causes and develop comprehensive interventions that consider the many influencing factors. Given that our community is now our world, integrated public health—or global health, One Health, or Planetary Health—is more important than ever, so much so that the concept of comprehensive health goes by many names.

Faculty, researchers, and clinicians within the College of Veterinary Medicine graduate more than 100 veterinarians each year who are trained in key elements of public health; an additional 80 students are mentored through a PhD program to expand research in this and related fields. Working with collaborators at Cornell and around the world, veterinarians bring a vital element to the One Health and public health table through their skills in infectious disease surveillance, epidemiology, diagnostics, prevention, treatment, as well as research on zoonotic diseases and microbes that cause food-related illnesses, and vaccine and rapid diagnostics development.

Faculty across the university, including within the College of Veterinary Medicine are also working to understand and address food safety and food security in order to improve health outcomes. The ability to routinely access enough nutritious and safe food and water affects people and communities worldwide. Whether looking at Upstate New York, the U.S., East Africa, or Asia, food security is a pervasive issue that requires attention—from a food systems perspective—to coordinate policy, programs, or interventions that ensure safe and sustainable land use, food production, food storage and processing, food delivery, and consumption.

Cornell University as a whole exemplifies One Health through cutting-edge research and innovation working across animal, human, and environmental disciplines, as well as its commitment to sustainability and community engagement for impact.


This article was written by Gen Meredith.

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