One Health: Placing Human, Animal, and Environmental Issues at the Heart of COVID-19 Recovery in the Asia-Pacific Region

“One Health” is a trans-disciplinary approach to human, animal, and environmental health. The model addresses key health challenges, including zoonotic and vector-borne disease threats, antimicrobial resistance (AMR), food safety and security, and the human health impact of pollution and climate change. The essence of One Health is interdependence: no one dimension can be addressed singularly. In other words, One Health simultaneously promotes a healthy ecosystem, a healthy community, and healthy people living sustainably.

In this blog, we outline why the One Health approach is not only an effective way to address major health issues affecting the Asia-Pacific Region including threats to regional security, but also an opportunity for countries to set themselves on a path to green growth in the post-COVID 19 world. The One Health model can combine development gains with environmental protection, climate change mitigation, and a lower threat of future pandemics.

Figure 1. The One Health Model

Source: Asian Development Bank.

Major issues affecting the Asia-Pacific Region that One Health can address

In the Asia-Pacific region, emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases, food safety and security, and the health impacts of climate change all threaten regional health security. The Greater Mekong Subregion, for instance, is a global hotspot for the transmission of emerging, re-emerging, and epidemic-prone diseases, particularly zoonoses, which are diseases that can spread between animals and people. In fact, an estimated two thirds of all communicable diseases are zoonoses, many of which have emerged from the Asia-Pacific region, often with devastating results.

Food safety and security are also major challenges for Asia and the Pacific, home to 4.3 billion people, and accounting for 60 percent of the world’s population, including the two most populous countries on the planet. Related to this is antimicrobial resistance, or AMR,  the growth and global spread of infections resistant to almost all known antibiotic. Excessive and irrational use of antibiotics in both human and animal populations, especially the use of large quantities of antibiotics in livestock for the purpose of growth promotion of food animals, are a major contributor to AMR.

Another major concern in the Asia-Pacific region is air pollution. Almost every person in the region (92 percent according to the UN Environment Programme) is exposed to unhealthy air quality. Marine pollution is also a significant threat, notably from marine plastics. Eight of the 10 rivers transporting most of the plastics into the sea worldwide are in the region. Similarly, industrial activities, mining, agriculture and livestock, and consumer lifestyles all drive soil and water pollution.

Finally, unchecked disasters and unabated climate change put the region at extreme risk of reversing economic and social development gains. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), between 2030 and 2050, climate change is expected to cause approximately 250,000 additional deaths per year from malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea, and heat stress. The transmission seasons and geographical range of vector-borne diseases such as malaria, dengue, and schistosomiasis are altered by climate change, making them harder to eliminate or control.

The One Health model concerns diseases of animal origin that are not only a major threat to human health, but also imperil the health of animals, so tackling One Health will require identifying early warning signs of potential animal and human illness. One Health addresses the use, stewardship, and protection of the natural environment, and the grave threats posed by environmental degradation and climate change. This implicitly requires cross-border trans-boundary and cross-sectoral collaboration.

A One Health framework to address development needs in the post-COVID-19 recovery process

The One Health framework links improving human health and trade, land use, healthy ecosystems, sustainable and resilient farming, and climate change mitigation together using a multisectoral approach. One Health thus creates a common language and shared purpose for the development sector, including development and financing agencies, to collaborate on human, animal, and environmental health.

Using One Health can help development finance agencies conceptualize human, animal, and ecological health together

For development finance agencies, using One Health as a basic operational framework (Figure 2) can help them conceptualize human, animal, and ecological health together, breaking funding silos and fostering development solutions based on harmony between the three. This framework combines aspects of interdisciplinarity and systems thinking, and aspects of practical implementation, such as systems mapping and multi-level engagement.

Figure 2. One Health Basic Operational Framework

Source: Nossal Institute for Global Health.

The One Health Framework presents a golden opportunity to capitalize on “greening” the post-COVID-19 recovery process. As countries “build back better,” green recovery is the only way to achieve sustainable development and safeguard against future disasters. Green recovery is particularly necessary for countries that rely heavily on agricultural development and face high vulnerability to climate and external shocks and face multiple shocks when just one dimension is disturbed. For example, if policymakers do not address deforestation, societies will face food insecurity and malnutrition, and animals will face a loss of habitat. On the other hand, programs that support green recovery will have a positively affect other dimensions, whether they be human, animal, or environmental. Placing human, animal, and environmental health issues at the heart of the recovery process has never been more imperative to livelihoods and human well-being.

Placing human, animal, and environmental health issues at the heart of the recovery process has never been more imperative to livelihoods and human well-being

The One Health approach is gaining in popularity

The One Health approach is already gaining momentum in the Asia-Pacific region to address complex development challenges. The Government of Nepal, for example, has used a One Health approach to tackle AMR, highly pathogenic avian influenza, and rabies. In the Greater Mekong Subregion, all country governments have officially adopted the concept of One Health, and some have also established technical collaborations, such as Southeast Asia One Health University Network, the Viet Nam One Health Partnership for Zoonoses and the Mekong Basin Disease Surveillance Network.

One Health is also gaining traction in the development space. WHO has argued that future pandemics can only be prevented with a One Health approach, emphasizing the importance of partnership with other organizations. One Health initiatives have similarly been supported by the United States Agency for International Development and the World Bank, and in Asia and the Pacific, by the Asian Development Bank (ADB). One Health is prioritized in ADB’s work with its developing member countries in the Greater Mekong Subregion. Regional public goods feature strongly in the subregion’s health agenda, with a focus on communicable diseases, through cross-border surveillance, information exchange, implementation of international regulations and norms, and pandemic preparedness. Through a technical assistance project, ADB also supports COVID-19 response in the subregion, as well as in the People’s Republic of China, and regional cooperation to implement One Health responses to public threats.


One Health is not only an effective way to address major health issues affecting the Asia-Pacific Region including threats to regional security, but also a common language and shared purpose for between sectors and within development organizations, leading to bigger gains in human health and wellbeing than the health sector can achieve alone. The post-COVID-19 recovery process presents an opportunity for countries to set themselves on a path to green growth, combining development gains with environmental protection, slower climate change, and a lower threat of future pandemics. The onus is now on development agencies and development finance institutions to support countries in these efforts, and to recognize the ways in which a One Health approach can also increase their own effectiveness, efficiency, and impact.


CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors, drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD is a nonpartisan, independent organization and does not take institutional positions.