Leading global health scientists call for new strategy to tackle the diseases of tomorrow

The heads of two of the country's leading science and health institutions have called for action to tackle global health threats by focusing on a 'One Health' approach. One Health is a concept which recognises that the health of humans is connected to the health of animals and the environment.

At a debate held in partnership with the New Scientist, Professor Peter Piot, Director of the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, and Professor Stuart Reid, Principal of the Royal Veterinary College (RVC), called for a more collaborative approach to tackle issues such as antimicrobial resistance (AMR) and high-risk diseases including Zika and Ebola.

They underlined the importance of specialists from medical, veterinary, political, economic and environmental disciplines working together to develop and implement life saving measures across the world.

Prof Piot, who co-discovered the Ebola virus and was the founding Executive Director of UNAIDS, and Prof Reid, an expert on AMR, argued that unless drastic action is taken in the next ten years, there may be a greater risk of the diseases which humans and animals share affecting humanity.

This will be compounded by a reduced ability to treat illnesses due to the increased microbial resistance to medicines for all species.

Prof Piot said: "Fighting emerging infectious disease and drug resistance requires a multidisciplinary approach that considers the complex links between human and animal health. 

"Ebola, HIV, influenza, SARS and MERS are examples of epidemics that have jumped between species; and in the case of Zika, malaria, yellow fever and dengue, the microbe relies on an intermediary species, such as mosquitoes, to infect humans.

"These infections take an enormous toll on public health globally. Research is essential to combat these deadly diseases, from developing vaccines to understanding human-animal transmission pathways. This, along with the rise of drug resistant strains of infectious agents, creates an urgency to act fast and to be better prepared."

Prof Reid said: "There can be no bigger issue than the global threat of diseases for which there may soon be no treatment. It is going to take the concerted effort of science, industry, governments and international organisations to address this impending catastrophe that is truly species independent and a One Health problem. Our focus must be to address the significant gaps in our understanding at the same time as doing what we know to be "the right thing" - everybody has a part to play and we must do it together."

The event was led by the New Scientist's Medical News Reporter, Clare Wilson. She said: "One of the greatest future threats to health is of a new infectious disease passing from animals to humans, such as HIV, Ebola and Zika have done in the past. We also know that antibiotic resistance, another grave public health challenge, is worsened by overuse of antibiotics in farming. So it's vital that medical researchers in animal and human health work more closely together."

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