The World Health Organization (WHO) has drawn the attention of d African countries to the importance of using the “One Health approach” to more successfully prevent and manage public health emergencies and threats.

One Health is an approach to designing health systems and services in ways which account for the link between human, animal and environmental health.

A statement from the WHO Africa Regional Office says the office, in collaboration with global and regional partners, is convening the West African Regional Conference on One Health in Dakar, Senegal, from Nov 8 to 11.

“More than 200 policymakers, experts and civil society advocates will discuss the importance of designing health systems and programmes that incorporate the One Health approach in order to contain diseases in animals and the environment before they spread to humans and become global crises. Ministers responsible for human health, animal health and wildlife from 17 countries are expected to attend,” it added.

The statement noted that in recent years, 75 per cent of emerging infectious diseases had been caused by pathogens which had spread to humans from animals or animal products. The Ebola outbreak in West Africa began when a child came into contact with the virus, likely through an infected animal.

It added from that single interaction, the virus then spread to more than 28,000 people and 10 countries, including five capital cities, killing more than 11,000.

West Africa is now grappling with outbreaks of other zoonotic diseases, such as avian influenza in Cameroon and Nigeria and Rift Valley Fever in Niger, as well as vector-borne threats such as a Zika virus strain from Brazil which is responsible for current outbreaks in Cape Verde and in Guinea-Bissau.

The statement said the West African Regional Conference on One Health would provide a powerful platform for West African leaders to discuss strategies for addressing health threats across the region. It would also give them the opportunity to commit to implementing the One Health approach at the country and sub-regional levels.

“Health security and emergency preparedness are issues too big to be handled by any one stakeholder, organisation or country – and too important for us to wait any longer,” said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, the WHO Regional Director for Africa.