No adequate funding in One Health to enhance preparedness

The One Health triad 

The Covid-19 pandemic gives a unique opportunity for a stronger One Health partnership to prevent future pandemics

LHAKPA TSHERING

Thimphu

While the Covid-19 pandemic has alerted the world about zoonotic diseases and health risks at the human-animal-environment interface, One Health does not receive adequate investments to prevent future pandemics and preparedness.

One Health is collaborative efforts of multiple disciplines working locally, nationally, and globally to attain optimal health outcomes recognizing the interconnection between people, animals, and the environment.

Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at the Khesar Gyalpo University of Medical Sciences of Bhutan (KGUMSB) Dr. Sithar Dorjee said that it is important to invest in One Health, both at the national and international level, to achieve its intended goals of the program.

“Investing adequately is the only solution in a multi-sectoral approach to training our professionals in early detection, outbreak investigation, and response management through a regular simulation exercise,” he said.

Through such activities, he said, they can maintain all the documents ready for the future in case of another outbreak. “Our children can refer and quickly attract. So these are the things we have to do and we want to go strong in One Health,” he said.

While it has institutionalized mechanisms such as seeking funds from donors at the bureaucrat and professional level, he stressed the need for the political commitment to boost finance and investment in One Health.

“If politicians give some weightage and importance, that will help us much more,” Dr. Sithar Dorjee added. “We can run the program more efficiently and effectively with larger activities rather than limiting to a few activities.”

He added, “I think we have not received adequate investment into One Health. For that, the policymakers and politicians should recognize One Health.”

With his experience in initiating the South-Asia One Health Disease Surveillance Network, he shares that there is still no funding commitment even though it has become increasingly clear during the pandemic.

“There wasn’t enough investment even at the global level. The World Bank has invested little but not much. Actually, commitment is there, but it lacks materializing in actual fund support. In the country, there is not much support other than approving the policy,” says Dr. Sithar Dorjee.

As the ongoing pandemic gives a unique opportunity to drive a real change, he hopes that the government and the policymakers, not only in Bhutan but globally, would recognize the importance of One Health. “We think they will invest in one health enough,” he underscored.

Despite the financial constraint, Dr. Sithar Dorjee says, he has the confidence that the program can sustain itself. “More or less, it is formalized and activities have been continuing. It will not fail. It will keep going,” he continued, adding that they will put together whatever little it gets to continue the program. 

Even before the Covid-19 outbreak emerged, he said that Bhutan One Health was prepared but in another way, not fully prepared to manage the pandemic efficiently.

“Particularly in the animal sector, we were aware that there is a danger of many zoonotic diseases potentially spreading over humans and becoming a pandemic like Covid-19,” he said. “Personally we were confident how it is going to evolve and that’s how we push for early action.”

Keeping this in mind, he said, now there is no room to be complacent anymore. “That is why we wanted to strengthen One Health. We must do it and carry it out. We are fully prepared but there is a long way to go,” he said.

“In the region, Bangladesh is a little ahead of us to operationalize One Health. The program was anticipating that not Covid-19 but Covid-like disease would come. We were aware a long time back, and it was not a surprise for us,” he added.

Bhutan One Health secretariat office was inaugurated at the Royal Centre for Disease Control (RCDC) in Thimphu in November 2020 following the cabinet approval in 2016 after almost 14 years after Bhutan joined the global One Health effort to avert zoonotic disease outbreaks.