The one health approach considers the interaction of livestock, ecology and people as a binding factor in addressing the health of these populations, according to the researchers.
The approach was discussed at the First International Scientific Conference of the Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD) in Ethiopia last month (3-6 December).
“The one health approach aims to bring interdisciplinary collaborations to attain optimal health for people, animals, and environment. When properly implemented, it will help protect and save millions of lives.”
Wubshet Mamo, The International Training and Education Center on Health
Research papers presented at the conference showed that most diseases affecting the mobile population in the region are strongly linked to how environment, livestock and human populations interact.
About 75 per cent of emerging infectious diseases, including Ebola are transmitted from animals to humans, said Ayana Yeneabat, a private researcher and consultant based in Ethiopia who co-chaired a session on Ebola.
The occurrence of diseases such as malaria, cholera and onchocerciasis in the mobile and pastoral communities are related to ecological factors because they are triggered either by seasonal variations or climate change, according to the conference.
A study conducted by Lense Gobu, a nutritionist based in Ethiopia, and veterinary professionals, last year in the Somali region of Ethiopia showed that a prolonged consumption of food devoid of animal-derived protein during the drought season led to acute malnutrition in children under five years, resulting in their vulnerability to other health problems.
Balako Gumi Donde, academic and research vice-president of Bule Hora University in Ethiopia, and other experts recommended the creation of partnerships for designing cross-border health interventions among countries in the region.
Donde said the one health approach needs to be pursued at country and regional levels to help address infectious diseases and environmental issues at the human, animal and ecosystem interfaces.
Wubshet Mamo, the clinical laboratory programme director at the International Training and Education Center on Health, Ethiopia, said that for diseases in the mobile population to be effectively addressed, there is a need for integrating human medicine, veterinary medicine and environmental science as a model for Africa.
“The one health approach aims to bring interdisciplinary collaborations to attain optimal health for people, animals, and environment. When properly implemented, it will help protect and save millions of lives,” Mamo added.
The researchers highlighted opportunities for partnerships among the various interventions as a way of improving human and animal health in the pastoral areas.
The ministerial committee of IGAD member states — Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Uganda — in a declaration issued at the end of the conference, called for the development of health programmes targeting pastoralists and mobile populations and the scaling up of scientifically evidence-based prevention programmes.
This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's Sub-Saharan Africa desk.