Across Europe in recent years, there has been an increasing understanding of how the health of people, animals and the environment is inextricably linked.
And this has been at the highest level of policymaking on our continent; the European Council has recognised that a One Health, ‘joined-up’ approach is essential if we are to tackle one of the great problems that affects both humans and animals – antimicrobial resistance.
This is the threat that infection-causing bacteria become resistant to antibiotics, making treatment for everyday disease more complicated, or even impossible.
I’ve seen the consequences of this kind of resistance first-hand; two years ago, my son nearly died in an underfunded and under-resourced hospital in Athens.
He was suffering from a multi drug-resistant Clostridium. difficile infection. Thankfully, due to prayer, skilful surgery and daily intravenous doses of last resort antibiotics, he survived.
It’s hard to imagine a world in which even a routine operation like a Caesarean has become impossible. And yet, as a vet – deeply committed to treating disease in animals – I sincerely believe in the considered, responsible use of these drugs in animals.
Put simply, we need antibiotics to treat disease today, but they must be used responsibly to preserve their efficacy for tomorrow.
The consequences of not achieving this balancing act have risen ever higher on the news agenda in recent years, helped in part by the publication of reports such as Lord O’Neill’s AMR Review in my native United Kingdom.
But we must exercise caution here; the scale of this threat has resulted in considerable misunderstanding and misinformation. And this is where I believe a One Health approach can be a lens through which we properly examine the issues.
We need a better societal understanding of animal health, for example. While the scientific consensus is that overuse or inappropriate use in the human health sector is probably the primary cause of antibiotic resistance in people, many people unfamiliar with the field still mistakenly point to the livestock sector as being the main driver for antibiotic resistance in humans.
The reality is that it’s our shared responsibility to act on this crucial issue. From an animal health perspective and with animal welfare at front of mind, it would be a grave mistake to advocate for restricting the use of antibiotics in livestock on the basis of alarmist or inaccurate reports.
We’ve sought a more productive route. This week Elanco hosted a One Health Antibiotic Stewardship summit in Washington DC that brought together leaders from across human and animal health to build dialogue and a plan to address this challenge.
It included thought leaders from the World Health Organization, the World Organisation for Animal Health and the World Wildlife Fund, alongside food company leaders and livestock producers.
Our role in the animal health industry is not only to ensure antibiotics are used responsibly today, but to continue to innovate and produce alternatives for the coming years. There is some very exciting work taking place in the field of vaccination, where new products are preventing infections and greatly reducing the need for antibiotics.
In every element of the One Health system – from human to animal and our shared environment – prevention is always better than cure.