4 min.

Rethinking education and capacity strengthening for One Health practice


The aim of the One Health approach is to achieve optimal health outcomes while recognizing, integrating and leveraging the interconnection between people, animals, plants and their shared environment. As such, One Health is a collaborative, multisectoral and transdisciplinary approach working at local, regional national and global levels.

Human population has increased and expanded into new geographic areas in the last 2-3 decades, resulting in more people living in closer contact with wild and domestic animal, and vice versa. At the same time, change in climate has caused changes and disruptions in environmental conditions and habitats. These changes create opportunities for disease movement between animals and humans, outbreaks, habitat changes and transboundary health issues, among many other effects.

A major imperative for practicing or implementing a One Health approach is that no one person, organization or sector can effectively address issues at the animal-human-environment interface alone. Intervention can only have positive health outcomes if there is intentional and effective collaboration, coordination and engagement between practitioners in human health, animal health and environmental health; with engagement of other relevant experts in for example law enforcement, policymaking and local community leadership. To achieve these, the soft skills, particularly effective communication and systems thinking and doing are key enablers and drivers.

What does this mean for One Health education and capacity strengthening?

The greatest and yet most interesting challenge with One Health is that researchers have to effectively work, collaborate and communicate across disciplines and sectors. No education system is wired to produce type of professional.

In this piece, I highlight some critical areas to address when training and teaching One Health, especially to the next generation workforce.

  • Greater focus on One Health implementation. One Health should be less about researchers and more about practitioners. In my opinion, this is where the greater gap lies.
  • Curricula and approaches that focus on complex problems which require a One Health approach. These should focus on skills to manage people with multiple perspectives and disciplines at different scales, and skills for getting things done by building relationships and networks. These new skills should effectively complement the existing approaches that mostly emphasize on technical expertise in a particular scientific field.
  • Because One Health practitioners operate in complex systems, there will be unintended outcomes, even when there are best-laid plans. There will be ‘failures’ and all these are part of the job and / or practice. Therefore, having the soft skills to embrace failure, learn forward and allow space for creativity to try out ideas are critical capabilities for a next-generation workforce.
  • The current reality is that we work in heavily entrenched, guarded, siloed systems that are characteristically resistant to change. Next-generation One Health practitioners must therefore see themselves as social change agents. They must wear the shoes of actors in the system, understand their independent capabilities, and be strategic in finding leverage points to bring about change. They must always look for the crack in the rock that will allow the sun to shine through.
  • Reflective capabilities - Learning to be reflective, and using reflective and systemic evaluation practices to be explicit about what is working and what is not working, and what can be done to improve or make it work.

Alongside teaching and implementing these cross-cutting concepts, it is necessary to address the operating environment on the demand side of the equation. For example, the job market is still very much structurally siloed and the employers have difficulties wrapping their heads around where to fit the One Health experts. Part of the solution is through creating next-generation workforce that are change agents with critical transformative skills; adaptive leadership, effective written and verbal communication, problem solving, flexibility, collaboration and coordination.

Thankfully, many organizations are already working towards addressing these gaps. The One Health education and capacity strengthening session at the 2021 Kenya One Health conference has gathered key practitioners and stakeholders from players who are willing to take up the challenge and use the platform offered by the event for engagement and deeper discussions on these issues. The conference presents a unique opportunity for all of us to contribute diverse perspectives on implementing One Health . The expected result from the session is an agenda and way forward that will transform One Health education and capacity strengthening in Africa and beyond.


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