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World Health Day 2022 – Our Planet, Our Health

6 April 2022

“Are we able to reimagine a world where clean air, water and food are available to all?

Where economies are focused on health and well-being?

Where cities are liveable and people have control over their health and the health of the planet?”

World Health Organization

Anithun Ali washes clothes in Zanzibar. Credit: SCI Foundation/William Mgobela

World Health Day 2022 will focus on what’s needed to keep humans and planet healthy, promoting a move to societies that focus on well-being and not just economic success.

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates over 13 million deaths a year are attributable to avoidable environmental causes. As they point out, the climate crisis is a health crisis and the current way in which human health is conceptualised and addressed does not match up to the complexity of the real world.

Healthy societies need healthy ecosystems

The WHO constitution sets out to achieve a complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease and infirmity. Health is a fundamental human right and healthy societies rely on well-functioning ecosystems for clean air, fresh water, medicines and food security. If we want to create sustainably healthy societies then we must tackle the inequity that exists when utilising our planets finite resources.

Economic resources, when compared to ecological ones for example, are prioritised by governments and organisations across the world, with economic success rewarded with a seat at the G7 or G20 tables for countries clambering for global influence. While there is a strong argument for investment in health as part of economic growth through stronger human capital and costs savings, uptake of this argument has been slow.

Despite the ubiquitous draw of GDP as a measure of national development, there are, however, alternative concepts in economics that better recognise health and sustainability. Increasingly,  circular- or well-being related economic approaches are gaining momentum alongside movements such as Buen Vivir which avoid putting any economic value on national wellbeing.

The One Health concept

The manmade dam in Keranso, Shone Woreda in Hadiya Zone traps water from the previous rainy season which the local community uses for washing clothes, bathing, swimming and taking home for household chores, as well as to provide water for their cattle. The pond is also home to freshwater snails that host schistosomiasis, otherwise known as bilharzia. © SCI Foundation/Indrias G. Kassaye

Within the global health community, the One Health concept offers new ways of thinking to help develop systems and approaches that help everyone towards better health and well-being without harming our ecosystems.

At SCI Foundation, we are exploring new approaches to tackling Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) which recognise that the health of humans, animals and environment are inextricably linked. Traditional approaches see human health interventions as independent from their counterparts in animal or environmental health. Even within human health, there is further division by specialities or specific diseases into isolated siloes, limiting collaboration or knowledge sharing.

There have of course been great gains from specialisation in advancing our medical understanding, but this has often been at the expense of other approaches and I’m not sure this narrow approach can deliver on the demands of our modern world.

 A One Health approach to maximise our resources

Our siloed health system struggles to make best us of the limited resources in NTDs and can lead to missed opportunities for improving health across whole ecosystems. The 10-year NTD road map released in 2021 called for cross-cutting approaches to deliver ambitious disease control, elimination, and eradication targets by 2030.

As part of efforts to operationalise the road map, SCIF together with other members of the NTD NGO Network supported a WHO companion document to the road map, which set out the actions needed to deliver the ‘One Health’ approach for NTDs.

The One Health companion document sets out priorities for countries, international organisations and non-state actors to be able to collaborate and coordinate, maximising the impact of health interventions by working together across sectors, despite any structural barriers that exist.

Read the One Health companion document here or watch back the WHO launch webinar.