Alliance Project: Next Generation One Health Philippines Fellowship Program by the St. Luke’s Medical Center

March 27th, 2023


The Philippines is a biodiversity hotspot and a major hub for the global wildlife trade, many of which are identified as carriers of zoonotic pathogens. With support from the International Alliance Against Health Risks in Wildlife Trade, the Planetary and Global Health Program of the St. Luke’s Medical Center College of Medicine established the Next Generation One Health Philippines (NGOHP) Fellowship Program to strengthen domestic capacity for One Health research in tackling wildlife trade and biodiversity loss as drivers of infectious disease emergence.

The fellowship is a year-long program for fifteen fellows from diverse backgrounds. It began with an online introductory course, followed by an in-person workshop in collaborative research, leadership, and communications. Supported by grants and mentors, three teams of five fellows each are currently conducting transdisciplinary One Health research focusing on issues related to wildlife trade and zoonotic spillover prevention. Later in the process, the fellows will participate in One Health dialogues with policymakers and other stakeholders with the goal of translating their findings into real-world change in policy and practice. The three projects currently being implemented by the fellows will be introduced and discussed in the session.

More information on the Next Generation One Health Philippines Fellowship Program.

Research Project 1: A Critical Look into the Existing Policies and Practices on Preventing Zoonotic Risks from Illegal Wildlife Trade in the Philippines

Illegal wildlife trade persists in the Philippines despite the enactment of the Wildlife Act (RA9147) in 2001 and several subsequent supporting directives. These activities tighten the wildlife-human interface and increase the likelihood of zoonotic spillovers, making the country a potential epicenter of future pandemics. The recent pandemic serves as a wake-up call for reevaluating the country’s current laws, policies, and practices on whether zoonotic risks are adequately addressed in the existing regulatory framework. Policy review, interviews with key informants, and focus group discussions will be carried out to identify gaps in policies and practices related to wildlife confiscation and handling. Laboratory identification of pathogens among animals in wildlife rescue centers will also be conducted to identify zoonotic risks related to illegal wildlife trade. Results from this paper can provide additional evidence to strengthen existing measures and introduce new reforms in the areas of biosecurity and wildlife management in the country.

Research Project 2: Exploration of Perspectives, Experiences, and Visions of Local Stakeholders on the One Health Issues in the Philippines

In the Philippines, there is limited evidence on stakeholders’ understanding of and participation in issues regarding illegal wildlife trade, environmental degradation, zoonotic diseases, and the One Health concept as a whole. At present, there has been no study on One Health awareness of various stakeholder groups (e.g., lay people, policymakers, and practitioners), especially in local communities with documented illegal wildlife trade activities. Focusing on four local communities in the provinces of Pampanga, Palawan, Cebu, and Zamboanga del Norte, this mixed methods study will investigate the knowledge, attitudes, and practices around the One Health approach of various stakeholders, capture their lived experiences of issues at the nexus of wildlife and disease, and explore their visions for the future of One Health multi-sectoral collaboration using the Three Horizons Approach.

Research Project 3: Local One Health Index (LOHI): Developing a Transdisciplinary Tool to Assess the One Health Performance at the Subnational Level in the Philippines

This study aims to develop a Local One Health Index (LOHI) that would measure One Health capacity and performance of subnational units in the Philippines. Employing the One Health approach, which recognizes that the health of people is closely connected to the health of animals and our shared environment, this project will utilize transdisciplinary indicators derived from existing global metrics guided by an expert panel and devise an assessment tool for use in local jurisdictions, which will include indicators on wildlife trade and pandemic prevention. The study will also involve preprocessing of publicly available data, index score calculation, and rapid ethnographic assessment of selected sites for field validation of the proposed index.

Recording: Expert Talk with Dr. Sakib Burza, Medical Director at Health in Harmony

March 1st 2023

Radical Listening is an example of contextualizing the perspectives of rainforest communities as implemented by Health in Harmony. Internationally coordinated and cooperative approaches to identify and reduce health risks from our distorted relationship with nature and wildlife must be inclusive and respectful of Indigenous knowledge systems and their communities needs and traditions. To create a platform to foster exchange, aiming to reduce the risk of future pandemics, the International Alliance against Health Risks in Wildlife Trade hosted this Expert Talk with Dr. Sakib Burza.

By partnering with local organizations and governments, Health in Harmony works alongside 135,000 Indigenous, Traditional, and rainforest peoples, protecting over 8.8 million hectares of high-conservation value rainforest in Indonesia, Madagascar, and Brazil. Sakib Burza will explore how this approach relates to the Alliance’s work, what insights from Health in Harmony’s scientifically confirmed work should be included in regulatory frameworks, and what conclusions might be drawn for members of the Alliance.

About the speaker

Dr. Sakib Burza directs the medical and emergency response components of Health in Harmony, while also developing the evidence base of operationalising planetary health. Sakib has been working in the humanitarian health sector since 2003, gaining experience across Africa, Asia and the Middle East, most recently completing a 6-year stint as the Asia Medical Operations lead for Doctors Without Borders, Spain. Through working with many human made and natural disasters, Sakib learned that a focus purely on human health without understanding and utilizing the role of the shared environment was a great missed opportunity to improve the wellbeing of all living beings, and not doing so would ultimately result in a cycle of failure.

A practicing physician, Sakib maintains an honorary Associate Professor position in the Clinical Research Department at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and is a Visiting Professor at the Institute of Tropical Medicine at Nagasaki University. Sakib received his medical degree from the University of Edinburgh and a Family Medicine specialization from the Royal College of General Practitioners. He then completed a Masters of Science in Public Health in Developing Countries at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and then a PhD in Medicine at the Institute of Tropical Medicine in Antwerp. He is interested in neglected tropical diseases, apes, mountains, kayaking, tall trees, and his family (not in that order…).