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One-Health plan key to preventing next outbreak

Health & Science

Knowledge is power or better yet, knowledge is empowering. In no field is this truer than the field of medicine and public health.

In recent times, we have witnessed what many are terming as the "resurgence of infectious diseases". Month on month, we hear of outbreak of diseases that for the most part we thought we had under control or we didn't even think of, as in the case of Marburg.

The impact has been far-reaching as seen with the Covid-19 pandemic. Perhaps for the first time in a long time, there's a global awareness around preventing pandemics rather than responding to such outbreaks.

There's a complex policy discussion on what it would take for leaders from local, national to regional levels to act to prevent the next pandemic.

The driving force behind new, emerging, and re-emerging diseases is human activity. Most infectious diseases are zoonotic, meaning they can be transferred between animal and people. The more humans encroach into the natural habitats and disturb the balance, the more infectious agents spread to humans.

According to the World Health Organisation, some 60 per cent of emerging infectious diseases that are reported globally come from animals - both wild and domestic.

In looking at emerging infectious disease, the approach taken is One Health - optimising the health of humans, animals, and ecosystems by integrating these fields rather than keeping them separate.

A good example is Malaria, one of the oldest known diseases in the world and also one of the deadliest killers. Malaria is one of the leading causes of child mortality kills about half a million children every year. That is 1,320 dead children on any average day.

As we commemorated World Malaria Day, nearly four years after the malaria vaccine was rolled out in Kenya, I had a moment, as I normally do, in recent times.

The vaccine was rolled out in certain parts of Kenya, mostly in the Lake Region where malaria is prevalent. The vaccine is administered in four doses. What that means is it requires follow-up with parents or caregivers to present the children in the facilities each time.

In Kenya, at least 400,000 children have received their first dose. What systems did we have in place to ensure that they come for the three other doses? As when it comes to immunisation, it is the follow-up campaigns that make a difference.

We are likely to see emergence and re-emergence of more diseases, as the population grows and we encroach into territories that were previously untouched. To be able to build immunity and remain ahead of the next outbreak, we have to keep up with the vaccine and, more importantly, follow-up doses.

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