Migratory birds arrive in the Philippines to escape extreme conditions and seek refuge. However, their arrival may also cause the spread of zoonotic pathogens that could lead to widespread diseases, such as avian flu. (Photo by Beth Macdonald via Unsplash)
The Planetary and Global Health Program (PGHP) of the St. Luke’s Medical Center College of Medicine-William H. Quasha Memorial (SLMCCM-WHQM) was selected by the International Alliance against Health Risks in Wildlife Trade headed by Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (German Agency for International Cooperation or GIZ) to implement a two-year national capacity building project for One Health research to prevent the next pandemic.
Entitled “Next Generation One Health Philippines,” the project aims to enhance the domestic capacity of the Philippines for One Health transdisciplinary research and knowledge translation to effectively tackle wildlife trade and biodiversity loss as drivers of infectious disease emergence, with the purpose of preventing future zoonotic spillovers in the next 50 years.
The United Nations defines One Health as “an integrated, unifying approach that aims to sustainably balance and optimize the health of people, animals and ecosystems. It recognizes the health of humans, domestic and wild animals, plants, and the wider environment (including ecosystems) are closely linked and interdependent.” Hence, the One Health concept is collaborative, multi-sectoral, and transdisciplinary and works at local, regional, national, and global levels with focus on sustainable and preventive measures to reduce risks to health and wellbeing of humans, animals, and the environment. The importance of this approach is reinforced by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, being a zoonotic disease at the nexus of human and animal health.
For the next two years, PGHP will be implementing educational, research, policy engagement, and public awareness activities. A tight cohort of emerging leaders from different disciplines and various parts of the Philippines will be trained on transdisciplinary collaborative research, advocacy, communication, policy analysis, and adaptive leadership. They will also receive support for conducting pilot research projects on pressing issues at the nexus of wildlife trade and zoonotic spillover. Newly generated evidence from these research projects will then be utilized as inputs to One Health policy dialogues between scholars, policymakers, and practitioners to influence national and local policies and practices governing wildlife conservation and pandemic prevention. Communication activities will also be conducted to raise national and international awareness around issues related to wildlife and pandemics.
The project is funded by the International Alliance against Health Risks in Wildlife Trade, a newly launched network led by the German Government through GIZ. The goals of the Alliance are two-fold: substantially reduce the risks of zoonotic spillovers and step up responses to human health risks caused by contact with wildlife; and enhance international and national awareness, knowledge and policies to narrow the gap between science and implementation.
“The Alliance is proud to partner with St. Luke’s to help build the capacity of the Philippines, a global biodiversity hotspot, to reduce the risks of emerging diseases coming from wildlife trade,” says Constanze Riedle, GIZ Program Head and Alliance convener. “We are excited to be part of training the next generation of One Health leaders that will safeguard our collective health.”
According to Dr. Renzo Guinto, PGHP director and head of the project: “We need to make sure that COVID-19 is the last pandemic of its kind, and that a new disease does not emerge from the jungles of the Philippines because of irresponsible wildlife consumption practices. This project will help enhance our domestic One Health capacity to address these challenges.”