One Health and the Evolving Discipline of Planetary Health

By David Nabarro Special Adviser to the UN Secretary-General on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and Climate Change

Human health and the state of our environment are inter-connected: the relationship is set out in the concepts of One Health and Planetary Health. WHO helps health professionals tackle such complex issues.

In these notes I reflect on links between people’s health and the planet. I describe two different kinds of threat to health.

First: threats to health resulting from the degrading of the world’s natural ecosystems. The ways in which modern societies live have an increasing and direct impact on the natural ecosystems on which human life depends. Biodiversity, access to fresh water and forest cover are all diminishing. If these issues are not addressed quickly, life expectancy for millions of people in coming generations will decrease.

Second: threats to health resulting from discrete changes in the environments within which people live. In the year 2012, the unhealthiness of the places where people live resulted in 12.6 million deaths. Climate change will increase these risks: it is already impacting on people’s health and its impact is expected to increase in coming years. In addition, animals in the environment can be the source of illness. At least 75% of the emerging infectious diseases that have affected humans in the past decade have come from animals.

Interconnected and cross-sectoral approaches to human health are increasingly valued especially within communities and countries. Support for such approaches grows year on year.

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