Considerable international attention is currently directed at the relationship between infectious diseases of animals and humans in Africa because this region has been regarded a potential source of future global pandemic threats. Many of these programmes have been externally funded and led.
While most have had some element of capacity building, few have addressed these disease risks from an African perspective, addressing not only emerging and epidemic threats but also chronic diseases affecting animals and humans which contribute to continuing poverty.
A “one health” approach improves on existing prevention and management practices for these diseases by bringing together research capacity from human and animal health sectors, to understand the complex epidemiology and dynamics of these diseases and their impacts.
This research provides evidence to develop the most efficient and cost effective policies for disease prevention and management, joined up across public health, animal health and agricultural sectors. A “one health” approach is particularly important for Africa, for three reasons:
1) Africa has a particular burden of diseases on the animal/human interface that affect the poor and undermine poverty reduction and national economic growth. These include zoonotic diseases as well as a diversity of endemic animal diseases that affect livelihoods and nutrition of millions of rural livestock keepers.
2) There is a growing convergence of technology and strategy in surveillance, prevention and management for diseases of humans and animals that makes a “one health” approach particularly efficient and economics in a resource-poor African context, bringing together human and animal health expertise and resources. This integrated approach has recently been adopted as a policy of the African Union.
3) A strong African-led capacity to detect, prevent and manage emerging infectious diseases is the best regional and global defence against the threats posed currently by the coincidence of rapid intensification of livestock production, the changing environmental interface between wildlife, humans and livestock, and a growing human population.