One Health Approach: Researchers urge for cross-sectoral strategies to achieve health resilience

Filipino researchers Dr. Vicente Y. Belizario, Jr. and Dr. Carlos Primero D. Gundran of the University of the Philippines Manila highlighted the interconnection of health and the environment in a special session during the 16th Philippine National Health Research System (PNHRS) Week last 10 August 2023, at the Summit Hotel, Tacloban City. 

With the theme “Building Resilience at the Nexus of Health and Environment,” the talks focused on neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), disasters, and how they are exacerbated by rapid environmental changes. 

Schistosomiasis prevalence in the Philippines

In his talk, Dr. Belizario, who is an expert in tropical medicine and public health, discussed the increasing prevalence of schistosomiasis in the Philippines. Schistosomiasis (SCH) is identified by the World Health Organization (WHO) as one of the NTDs to be addressed to achieve the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals. Some of the common disease outcomes are anemia, stunting, malnutrition, and impaired cognitive development in children, portal hypertension, and in some cases, death. 

“Kailangan na ‘ho i-emphasize ang NTDs para pati po tayong lahat, makatulong sa DOH at sa Pilipinas, makarating sa control and elimination by 2030,” Dr. Belizario emphasized. 

Currently, there are seven Asian countries in which SCH is endemic to, including the Philippines, with a national prevalence of 4.0% in 2019. In a study on the pockets of high SCH endemicity in Agusan del Sur and Surigao del Norte in 2019, an 8.1% prevalence was recorded among children, while prevalence among adults was 9.8%.

According to Dr. Belizario, the most common host of Schistosoma japonicum, the disease-causing parasite, are water buffalos or kalabaw. Due to the kalabaw being an integral part of Filipino livelihoods especially in the rural communities, one of the major challenges in addressing the disease is the continuous exposure to the parasites in daily living; followed by lack of sensitivity in diagnostic methods for the disease. 

Health amid disasters and climate change 

Focusing on disaster risk reduction and management, Dr. Carlos Primero D. Gundran, Director of the University of the Philippines Manila Center for Innovations for Disaster Risk Reduction and Management in Health, explained the detrimental health effects of climate change. “Disasters could contribute or could cause death, disease, injury, disability,” said Dr. Gundran. 

Environmental changes such as extreme temperatures, exacerbated natural disasters, and deteriorating air quality impact health according to Dr. Gundran. In 2022, the Philippines is among the top 10 countries with the most natural disasters as recorded by Statista.

Changing temperatures and high precipitation may contribute to the increased spread of vector-borne and water-borne diseases, while the occurrence of extreme events may affect an individual’s mental health. Climate change can also cause limited and contaminated food supply, which in turn, influences nutrition. 

One Health as a solution

A proposed solution by researchers to control schistosomiasis and mitigate the health effects of climate change is the One Health Approach. The WHO defines One Health as an “approach to designing and implementing programs, policies, legislation, and research in which multiple sectors communicate and work together to achieve better health outcomes.” This suggests the implementation of cross-sectoral strategies to address health issues. 

Tripartite and UNEP support OHHLEP's definition of "One Health"

Dr. Belizario highlighted the importance of collaboration between environmental health, veterinary public health, and human health to achieve targets in controlling SCH. Likewise, Dr. Gundran explained the interconnectedness of building robust response systems to mitigating the health impacts of natural disasters. 

Department of Science and Technology- Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (DOST-PCHRD) Executive Director Dr. Jaime Montoya echoed the call for collaborative action for health. “We really encourage people to work across disciplines. Huwag in silos because the impact and the knowledge is lacking if we actually keep to our comfort zone,” he said. 

A replay of the session may be accessed via the DOST-PCHRD Facebook page

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