Sciensano examines health issues from the “One Health” perspective in order to be able to provide an efficient response to the needs of our society. To achieve this, we use a unique mix of research activities, services and expertise.
Human and animal health are inseparable and are closely intertwined with each other and with the environment in which they live. Examining aspects of health from this “One Health” perspective, in other words looking at them from different angles and in different ways at the same time, helps us to look for effective answers to the health issues affecting our society.
What is One health?
“One Health” stands for the pursuit of optimum health for people, animals and their environment by studying the interactions between these elements and their influence on health.
To do so, we approach health issues in different ways. We do this by asking these questions from different starting points, but also by studying them through different scientific disciplines. In this way, we want to formulate as complete as possible an answer to the health issues affecting our society.
The “One Health” concept is often narrowed down to specific topics such as zoonoses (infectious diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans) and antimicrobial resistance, in which the “environment” component is still regularly omitted. At Sciensano, however, we opt for a broad interpretation of One Health.
One health in practice
One Health is a concept with many facets and components. In practice, this translates into a whole range of research fields and methods, but the mindset on how to approach them is always the same. For example, if we ask ourselves how healthy our environment is from the point of view of food safety and food production, we then naturally pose the question regarding the direct link between soil pollution and its influence on plants and animals, for instance. With One Health in mind, however, we adopt a broader approach immediately, and we also look for answers to questions such as:
- In addition to the soil, does air quality, water quality, etc. also have an impact on the health of plants, animals and people?
- What is the situation with insects and birds that provide pollination, and consequently make it possible to produce fruit and vegetables? Both for our own food and for the production of animal feed.
- Are the animals that are in the food chain (and, by extension, also our pets) healthy, or do they have something that can make people sick?
- Can these diseases spread more easily in a world where we and our food travel longer distances?
- Is the transportation of animals in need of improvement?
Every link is important in itself, because it is inextricably connected to other links. We cannot view them separately as just food safety, human health, animal health, or some other well-defined domain, because then we won’t get a complete picture of all the aspects that contribute to health overall. A One Health approach is therefore necessary. It is precisely this approach that enables Sciensano to respond to the health issues of the 21st Century.