Africa must take the lead in addressing global health challenges

The new Director General of the World Health Organisation, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, is a former minister of health in Ethiopia. Africa – at last – is now at the centre of global health policy. This is good news, as persistent ill-health and threats of disease emergence remain, and a different approach to the standard western solutions is required. This must be centred on a One Health approach – where human, veterinary and ecosystem health are seen together. This will require new approaches to research, policy and practice, and must be a major priority for WHO and member states.

But realising these ideals is easier said than done. What might a One Health approach look like for Africa? Today a new Special Issue of the Royal Society’s Philosophical Transactions (Biology) journal is published. Across 12 papers, this offers some clues. The issue is called – One Health for a Changing World: Zoonoses, Ecosystems and Human Well-being, and all articles are available, free online here. You can also download individual articles from the links below.

These papers mostly emerged from a long-term interdisciplinary collaboration under the Dynamic Drivers of Disease in Africa research programme, hosted by the ESRC STEPS Centre. This involved work in Ghana, Sierra Leone, Kenya, Zambia and Zimbabwe, looking at different zoonotic diseases (see earlier coverage on this blog on work on trypanosomiasis in Zimbabwe, here and here).

Through a combination of detailed fieldwork and broader integrative modelling, we aimed to ask how diseases emerge, who they affect, and what to do about them, taking a One Health approach as the starting point. The papers highlight the importance of taking local knowledge of diseases seriously, understanding how both local ecological and social factors generating disease risk and affect poverty and wellbeing, but also how long-term vulnerabilities are generated by politics and changing environments. The papers highlight the importance of modelling as a route to thinking about complex dynamics over time and space, but emphasise the need to link modelling approaches, generating a conversation between modelling approaches. This may involve ‘constructive conflict’ at the centre of a negotiation around how to respond, and will require a rethinking of policy approaches, as well as organisational mandates.

Providing an effective platform for a One Health response to complex and dynamic disease challenges must be a priority for Africa – and the new African DG of the WHO. Hopefully this Special Issue can provide some important pointers, as well as highlighting the real challenges of realising interdisciplinary, cross-sectoral engagement in a changing world.

Here are the details of the papers:

This post was written by Ian Scoones and appeared on Zimbabweland

Post published in: Agriculture

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