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One Health: Urgent Acceleration Necessary to Curb Infectious Disease Outbreaks in Africa

As Africa faces burgeoning infectious disease outbreaks, including Mpox in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and cholera in multiple countries this year alone, the International Society for Infectious Diseases (ISID) has urged the continent to accelerate multidisciplinary One Health solutions to curb the threat.
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The intersection of infectious diseases in humans, animals, and the environment is a global concern, with limited-resource countries worst impacted, warned ISID President, Professor Paul Tambyah. “Understanding this integration is critical if we are to address the complex health challenges we face, and save lives.”

Professor Tambyah was speaking ahead of the 20th International Congress on Infectious Diseases, being held in Cape Town, South Africa, this December. More than 3,000 infectious disease experts from more than 100 countries are expected to attend, with One Health-related health threats a priority agenda item. The largest Congress of its kind globally, will showcase an accredited Programme focused on clinical Infectious Disease knowledge and practice, novel translational science, infection prevention protocols, and the epidemic intelligence of Infectious Diseases.

While health, food, water, energy, and the environment are all wider topics with sector-specific concerns, collaboration across sectors has been shown to more effectively address health challenges such as the emergence of infectious diseases, antimicrobial resistance, and food and water safety.

Citing rabies as a classic example of the very close connection between human and animal health, Professor Tambyah said control of this disease in animal hosts was critical, given that rabies kills more than 50,000 people every year, mostly children in Africa.

“The most effective way of reducing human rabies is to control the animal reservoirs through vaccination of dogs and other animal hosts, which has worked extremely well in high-, middle- and low-income settings alike which have launched combined veterinary and public health programmes to control the disease,” he explained.

The One Health concept is not entirely new to Africa, research shows, although serious implementation gaps remain. Between 2007 and 2009, the approach was successfully used to control an outbreak of Rift Valley fever in Kenya, in part due to coordination between the Kenya Ministry of Health and the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Fisheries. In 2006 in Nigeria, the One Health approach enabled a successful multi-sectoral emergency action plan that led to the elimination of the highly pathogenic avian influenza virus H5N1 in Nigeria.

More recently, said Professor Tambyah, effective vaccination of commercial poultry, which has been used in many parts of Asia for more than a decade, has virtually eliminated human disease in those settings.

Cholera, meanwhile, is a clear example of the link between environmental factors and human health. Between January 2023 and March 2024, more than 270,000 cases and nearly 6000 deaths were reported in 18 African countries, driven by persistent gaps in access to safe water and sanitation.

“Provision of clean water and safe sanitation has probably saved more lives from infectious diseases than any other intervention, long before the advent of antibiotics and chlorination of municipal water,” said Professor Tambyah.

At the upcoming Congress, he added, a special ICID Ubuntu Community Village, built within the Programme, would enable activists and patient groups to interact with researchers, clinicians, and public health professionals – and give a voice to those impacted by Infectious Diseases from all walks of life, both globally and locally. A policy forum would allow policymakers to hear directly from people living and working with infectious diseases and share their plans for public health interventions.

“If we are to scale up the One Health approach sufficiently to make a real difference among worst-affected populations, it is important to hear from those whose ground-up initiatives are taking the lead, to turn the tide on this ever-growing threat in Africa and worldwide,” Professor Tambyah said.

For more information about ICID 2024, visit https://isidcongress.org/

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