Researchers offer new insights into animal-to-human disease transmission

Published on 17 March 2016

Key findings on who gets sick and why from the Dynamic Drivers of Disease in Africa Consortium are being shared at One Health for the Real World: zoonoses, ecosystems and wellbeing, a high-level international symposium taking place at the Zoological Society of London this week.

Resilient global health systems, strong civil society and leadership for those health systems and broad research agendas from disparate fields are the three essentials to face the challenges of 21st century equity and health, according to Professor Jeremy Farrar, Director of the Wellcome Trust.

Speaking at the One Health for the Real World: zoonoses, ecosystems and wellbeing symposium, co-organised by the STEPS-led Dynamic Drivers of Disease in Africa Consortium and the Zoological Society of London, with support from the Royal Society, Professor Farrar stressed that people were not passive observers in history and could bring about these changes.

However he said a move to individualised medicine would act against public access, equity and a holisitic approach to health.

Key findings from the Drivers of Disease consortium are being shared with high-level policymakers, practitioners and academics at the two-day symposium, which is taking place at the Zoological Society of London. They include representatives of the World Health Organization, the UK Department for International Development, the UN Food and Agricultural Organization and EcoHealth Alliance.

The Consortium has been researching the relationships between diseases transmitted from animals to people (zoonoses), ecosystems an wellbeing for the past four years. In particular it has explored henipavirus infection in Ghana, Rift Valley fever in Kenya, Lassa fever in Sierra Leone, and trypanosomiasis (sleeping sickness) in Zambia and Zimbabwe.

One Health

Importantly, it took a One Health approach to its research. One Health recognises the interconnectedness of human and animal health with environmental health. It seeks to promote the collaborative effort of multiple disciplines, working locally, nationally and globally to attain optimal health for people, animals and the environment.

The Drivers of Disease Consortium involved 20 partners in Africa, Europe and America. It saw social scientists from STEPS (IDS/University of Sussex) working together with ecologists, epidemiologists, virologists and other natural scientists – with the integration of multiple disciplines and research approaches proving essential to learn how diseases transmit from animals to people.

Local and participatory

The research has underlined the value of taking a ‘local’ approach. First, understanding the local circumstances in which diseases pass from animals to people was shown to be essential for disease preparedness and prevention.

Second, participatory research undertaken by the Consortium showed the importance of considering local people’s various perspectives to open up new lines of inquiry and reveal links otherwise missed.

Policy and practice

Professor Melissa Leach, Director of the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) and lead researcher for the Consortium, said: “This work has many implications for policy and practice. It suggests opportunities for new integrated interventions involving collaboration between vets, medics, environmental planners, agricultural technicians, social development practitioners and more.

“Such interventions need to be adapted to diverse local settings and contexts yet also have the potential to scale up and out. Identifying and taking these opportunities forward is what doing ‘One Health for the real world’ means.”

Silos and hierarchies

She added that the work was just beginning: “Unfortunately, there are forces that make the One Health approach difficult. These include the tendency for sectoral and disciplinary silos and the dominance of old hierarchies, interests and perspectives. Findings ways to overcome these forces is the key challenge now.”

The research has been funded by the Ecosystem Services for Poverty Alleviation (ESPA) programme. ESPA spokesperson Rob Bruce said: “We are a proud partner in this project. The work of the team has been phenomenal, delivering real game-changing science that could genuinely save and improve lives. This is what ESPA is all about: helping nature to help people in an effort to make the world a better place for both.”

Find out more about zoonoses research at IDS

Follow on Twitter #OneHealth2016

Key contacts

Naomi Marks

Project Communications Manager


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