An interview with Parliamentary State Secretary Dr Maria Flachsbarth on BMZ’s One Health approach

The future challenges are huge!

In an interview with Healthy DEvelopments in March 2021, Dr Maria Flachsbarth outlined in some detail the thinking and motivations behind the One Health approach pursued by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Why has Germany decided to focus on the One Health approach particularly now? Which developments in the BMZ’s thinking and strategizing and which global developments have contributed to its emergence? 

“Germany and the BMZ have been committed to improving health care for people for many years. We are active at several levels: from providing support to local communities, to advising national governments and cooperating with international institutions. One of our strategic goals is preventing infectious diseases including zoonoses (diseases that can spread between animals and humans, such as rabies).”

“In the last few years, the emergence of zoonotic diseases such as MERS, SARS or Ebola has been associated with human activities and their impacts, for example changes in land use, intensified agricultural production, increased travel and trade, and altered ecosystems. This demonstrates the inextricable way that human and animal health are linked to one another and to the health of the environment. And it reinforces the importance of coordinating among the many players involved in human, animal and environmental health with a view to improving the governance of infectious diseases in general, and of zoonotic diseases in particular. The multidimensional crisis triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic has now brought the One Health approach into the spotlight worldwide.”

“But we should not forget that pandemics can be caused not only by viruses but also by bacteria. Therefore, combatting another, silent, pandemic: the worldwide spread of antimicrobial resistances (AMR) is vital. (AMR happens when microbes change after being exposed to antimicrobial drugs, making the infections they cause more difficult to treat). If we don’t tackle AMR, we could be thrown back into an era where even minor infections are untreatable.”

“To meet the health challenges of tomorrow, including zoonotic diseases and AMR, we believe that multidisciplinary collaboration is essential. Therefore, we have decided to anchor the One Health approach in our political agenda.”

How is the COVID-19 pandemic affecting the way a One Health approach is implemented in BMZ-supported programmes around the world?

“The COVID-19 pandemic can function as a window of opportunity for systemic change. It has shown us that nobody is safe until everybody is safe, reminded us of the importance of Universal Health Care and created momentum for a more holistic view of health and development.”

“Therefore, the BMZ has set up a new One Health Directorate, giving the One Health approach an institutional and technical structure. We also encourage our political partners to anchor the One Health approach in their policies for preventing and addressing health emergencies. Our strong political commitment is also expressed in financial terms: last year (2020) we invested more than 150 million euros in projects with clear One Health components and we will continue to do the same this year.”

To ground our policy on scientific evidence, we set up a scientific advisory board with members from different disciplines to provide us with valuable advice and expertise on the topic of One Health. Based on their recommendations, we recently launched our new One Health strategy. Three examples which illustrate our commitment are: 

  • Last year, we initiated the international alliance against health risks in wildlife trade and wildlife products.
  • For several years we have been working on disease control in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS region). With additional funding, we are now offering support for strengthening pandemic prevention by applying the One Health concept in additional ECOWAS member states.
  • In Kenya, we established the One Health Research, Education and Outreach Center in Africa (OHRECA) with the aim of improving human, animal and ecosystem health on the African continent through capacity building, network strengthening and evidence-based policy advice.

What are your aspirations for the BMZ’s One Health approach in the future?

“I am convinced that prevention is better than cure and that close cooperation between the different sectors benefits us all. Therefore, I believe that One Health is a powerful approach to safeguard the planet from health risks at the animal-human-ecosystem interface.” 

“On the international level, I firmly believe that interdisciplinary cooperation among the four major organisations WHO, OIE, FAO and UNEP will be further consolidated and strengthened. Other important players such as the development banks should also mainstream One Health issues into their health, agriculture, water and nature protection projects.”

“Finally, I would strive to have even stronger cooperation within the German government. My Ministry, the BMZ, is contributing with its knowhow and experience in the field of international cooperation and project management. We have already established good working relations on One Health issues with the Ministries of Health, of Agriculture and of Science, and with the Federal Foreign Office. We will intensify this work, because the future challenges are huge and we know that a common approach will be the most successful one.”

March 2021

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