Improving sustainability through One Health approaches: an interview with Professor Rosenbaum Nielsen

8 May 2023

We talked to her ahead of the seven-day MediPIET module on One Health and vector-borne diseases organised by ECDC under the EU Initiative on Health Security.

Professor Rosenbaum Nielsen
Professor Rosenbaum Nielsen

Liza Rosenbaum Nielsen is a professor in Veterinary Preventive Medicine at the University of Copenhagen with a passion for One Health. As one of the leaders of the annual One Health International Summer Course in Copenhagen, she is committed to contributing to the development of a sustainable food production system through transdisciplinary research and collaboration.

With years of experience in conducting research, teaching, and advising on topics ranging from epidemiology to the control of infectious animal diseases and zoonoses, she has also contributed to several projects and EU COST Actions focused on One Health, disease control and surveillance, biosecurity, and the evaluation of One Health initiatives.

Can you briefly explain the main principles of the One Health approach?

One Health essentially acknowledges that the health of humans, animals (wild and domestic), and the environment are interconnected and should not be seen as separate silos.
However, many silos do exist in health governance, research and education, so One Health approaches or initiatives try to break down some of the barriers that prevent us from working across different sectors, institutions and disciplines.

In the One Health approach, we collaborate and try to gain knowledge, new understanding and synergies that benefit human, animal, and environmental health simultaneously, rather than trying to optimise one of these categories separately. This requires some level of systems thinking, as we do not want to create harm elsewhere in the system, when we make initiatives to improve the health and well-being in one of the three domains. One Health approaches have the opportunity to contribute to a more sustainable development on our planet and can be useful and beneficial in many different contexts.

How can field epidemiologists apply the One Health principles in their work?

Epidemiologists are used to seeing and working with interacting factors in the environment of humans and/or animals. So, they may ‘just’ need to expand the sphere within which they are working and include a wider spectrum of effects and risk factors in their approaches and work with more disciplines and participate in projects with a broader scope. Also, the aim of their studies may be different, when they are contributing to One Health projects that have a broader or different target than they are used to. This may lead to uncertainty about how to approach things and what is the next best step, but this is part of working in One Health initiatives.

Finally, the epidemiologists should generally be prepared to plan, work, and build infrastructures and leadership that will promote the One Health approach in their work. This requires understanding of the underlying systems that their projects or initiatives are addressing, and the theory of change that they are aiming for should preferably be made clearer. One Health initiatives often have a broader outlook and can add more value, so this can be rewarding.

In One Health initiatives, epidemiologists (and other actors) are no longer ‘just answering fairly simple questions’, but need to see how their results fit into a bigger system that will be impacted by the initiative. Some impacts can be unintended, but we still need to be aware of them and communicate about it.

How can countries in the EU`s neighbouring regions improve and optimise their collaboration in this field?

They can get involved in e.g. EU projects or with NGOs or other organisations working to initiate and carry out One Health initiatives. They can also educate their people about One Health and how this approach can help us better understand disease drivers and prevent the spread of diseases in the long run.

They can contribute to creating One Health centre structures or programmes promoting collaboration across disciplines, sectors, and institutions, and promote institutional memory, so that knowledge does not disappear if employees get new jobs.

One Health approaches or initiatives try to break down some of the barriers that prevent us from working across different sectors, institutions and disciplines… {they } have the opportunity to contribute to a more sustainable development on our planet.