Event Report

The Alliance at ‘Breaking Barriers: Advancing the One Health Agenda with a Focus on Environment’

Frank Peters | Fotografie

The Alliance was pleased to co-organise the ‘Breaking Barriers’ event in Berlin on October 12-13, 2023. The conference was hosted by the Tierpark Berlin, in the beautiful Schloss Friedrichsfelde and was co-organized by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Nuclear Safety and Consumer Protection (BMUV), the Quadripartite Collaboration on One Health (Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations [FAO], United Nations Environment Programme [UNEP], World Health Organization [WHO], World Organisation for Animal Health [WOAH]), the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), the Sector Initiative One Health of the German Society for International Cooperation (GIZ), and the International Alliance against Health Risks in Wildlife Trade.

Frank Peters | Fotografie

Dr. Nagel presenting on the wildlife trade x health nexus at Breaking Barriers in Berlin

As the event promoted a stronger focus on the environment, breakout sessions covered topics such as soil health or invertebrate biodiversity services and invasive species. About 115 international guests from different sectors including academia, NGOs, or UN agencies joined the onsite event, representing 65 different organisations from over 20 countries. Various keynote speeches were delivered addressing the importance of the environmental pillar within the One Health approach. Head of programme of the Alliance, Dr. Michael Nagel, presented on the wildlife trade and health nexus. Other speakers included Doreen Robinson (Head of Biodiversity at UNEP) who pointed out that “there is no healthy life on a sick planet” or Monica Medina (President and CEO of WCS) calling out that “time for action is now”. Dr. Kim Grützmacher, Senior Advisor to the International Alliance, joined a panel discussion on ‘Cross-sectoral reflections and future opportunities for One Health’ alongside Doreen Robinson (UNEP), Dr. Frauke Fischer (University of Würzburg), Dr. Keith Sumption (FAO), and Dr. Mariam Wallet Aboubakrine (Arramat Project) . Kim reflected on the need for One Health to become even more inclusive: “(…) often we don’t have people in the room who should be there [from other relevant disciplines] but are so difficult to get into the room because they don’t know that they could contribute (…)”.. Find an extensive summary on the event and other speakers on the Breaking Barriers Event Website.

Frank Peters | Fotografie

Frauke Fischer, Kim Grützmacher, Doreen Robinson and Keith Sumpton (from left to right) on the panel on ‘Cross-sectoral reflections and future opportunities for One Health

The Breakout Sessions:

As a co-host, the Alliance also co-led two Breakout Sessions on ‘Pandemic Prevention at Source = Protection of Ecosystems & Biodiversity’ and ‘German ‘Flagship’ Projects on biodiversity/health: International Alliance and N4H’. Below you can find a summary of the outcomes of the two sessions.

Pandemic Prevention at Source = Protection of Ecosystems & Biodiversity’

Breakout lead/s: Kim Grützmacher (International Alliance against Health Risks in Wildlife Trade), Pablo Sagredo Martin (UNEP), Wondwosen Asnake Kibret (UNEP), Cristina Romanelli (WHO), Molly Crystal (WCS), Chris Walzer (WCS), Chadia Wannous (WOAH)

Moderator: Cristina Romanelli; Pablo Sagredo Martin (co-moderator)

Speakers: Prof. Dr. Nitish Debnath (National Coordinator, One Health Bangladesh, OHHLEP member); Dr. Chadia Wannous (One Health Global Coordinator, World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH)); Joan Carling (Executive Director, Indigenous Peoples Rights International (IPRI))

Frank Peters | Fotografie

Moderator Cristina Romanelli engaging in the group discussion

Along the different stages of disease emergence leading to pandemics the proportion of pathogens making it to the next stage (from pre-emergence to pandemic) decreases as the costs for stopping them increases. Scientists have made a compelling economic case for pandemic primary prevention (prevention at source or upstream prevention) and claim that the cost of preventing further pandemics over the next decade by protecting wildlife and forests and regulating intensive livestock production in and around highly biodiverse ecosystems would equate to just 2% of the estimated financial damage caused by Covid-19.

Even though this approach would come with notable ancillary benefits for the climate and biodiversity, currently only a small percentage of efforts to reduce the risks of future pandemics goes to prevention at source (at the stages of pre-emergence and spillover) while the majority is invested in preparedness measures.

Approaches recognizing the incredible opportunity for investments contributing to solving the triple crisis (health, climate and biodiversity) are not only cost-effective but can reduce and prevent a lot of harm and suffering in the mid- and long-term. In this session we looked at the current discourse around pandemic “prevention”, and the practical implications.

Key Points from the discussion

  1. The two main challenges or barriers identified where the issues around not having a defined and common understanding of what pandemic prevention at source is and the lack of coordination between sectors when addressing pandemic prevention.
  • Prevention must be proactive vs. reactive and must lead us to address the drivers of spillovers – but the term “prevention” is understood very differently in different spheres – from conservation to policy to public health and social science – a common definition in the context of pandemic prevention is needed.
  • In the context of addressing the risks of future pandemics, strategies to reduce the probability of zoonotic spillover events are still misunderstood (including One Health), under-prioritized and under-utilized, despite their significant social, ecological, climate and economic co-benefits
  • The strong economic case for primary prevention (cost-effectiveness of measures) can help to overcome the prevention paradox (perceived invisibility of the value of prevention plus time lag of effects).
  • We need to learn from Indigenous knowledges and practices to observe and assess environmental changes, identify disease spillover risks, and shape prevention strategies.
Frank Peters | Fotografie

Workshop participants writing down thoughts and ideas on “how can prevention at source be effectively operationalized at local and national level”?

Key actions

  1. Agree on the definition of “prevention” as actions to identify threats and reduce risk of spillover (as opposed to preparedness and response which refers to actions which limit spread in human population) and use term consistently.
  2. Shift the infectious disease control paradigm from reactive to proactive (primary / spillover prevention) and show the cost of “inaction” vs. “action” on prevention.
  3. Address drivers of pathogen spillover with a One Health approach at the human-animal-environment interface to minimise the risk of human infection by zoonotic pathogens.
  4. Translate abstract concepts and strategies (including One Health) by showcasing concrete actions taken on the ground to detect and prevent spillover risks.
  5. Action should range from sustainable use and management of ecosystems, identifying critical control points, risk communication, monitoring the occurrence and spread of diseases, access to vaccines while also fully utilizing existing tools and policies for pandemic prevention and response (co-design, co-create, co-construct, co-lead).

Open Questions

  1. What policies and political instruments are needed to enable prevention? How we can leverage existing tools or processes to lead us to enforceable legal frameworks that allow for action, starting at the local level?
  2. How do we address the lack of policy coherence, effort duplication (data duplication), and the need for whole of government approaches?
  3. How can we address vested interests amongst the stakeholders (particularly in preparedness and response), corruption as a symptom of this, short-termism in organizations and in the system, the lack of finance directed towards pandemic prevention and the existent erratic finance flows that exacerbate the drivers of pandemics?
  4. How can we ensure that Indigenous knowledges and practices related to wildlife and ecosystem management are integrated into pandemic prevention strategies?

‘German ’Flagship’ Projects on biodiversity/health: International Alliance and N4H’

Breakout lead/s: Dr. Kim Grützmacher (International Alliance against Health Risks in Wildlife Trade), Nadja Münstermann (UNEP), Dr. Julian Blanc (UNEP), Dr. Chadia Wannous (WOAH), Catherine Machalaba & Hongying Li (EcoHealth Alliance)

Moderator: Maike Voss (Center for Planetary Health Policy)

Speakers: Dr. Julian Blanc (Senior Program Officer, Ecosystems Division, UNEP); Dr. Raymond Hamoonga (One Health Specialist, Zambia National Public Health Institute); Dr. Ulaankhuu Ankhanbaatar (Laboraqtory Head of TADs diagnostic and surveillance, State Central Veterinary Laboratory, Mongolia); Johannes Keil (GIZ Global Program “International Alliance against Health Risks in Wildlife Trade”); Dr. Christina Pettan-Brewer (Associate Professor, Director andSenior Veterinarian, One Health Brazil/Latin America (OHLAIC/CYTED) and UW Center for One Health Research; Joan Carling (Executive Director, Indigenous Peoples Rights International (IPRI))

Frank Peters | Fotografie

Johannes Keil (Advisor Governance at the Internat. Alliance) presenting on the International Alliance during the Breakout Session

In response to the COVID-19 pandemic various initiatives were launched to prevent, prepare for, and respond to future pandemics. Within this triad, few address pandemics primary prevention or prevention at source – pre-spillover. Of those that do, few explicitly focus on the environment, ecosystems, and wildlife (fauna), even though this is arguably the most effective and cost-efficient approach to prevent the emergence of new and re-emergence of infectious diseases of zoonotic origin.

In 2021 and 2022, respectively, the German government (represented by the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development – BMZ – and the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Nuclear Safety and Consumer Protection – BMUV) launched two initiatives which promote the synergies of nature conservation and health protection: The International Alliance against Health Risks in Wildlife Trade and the Multi Partner Trust Fund – Nature for Health (N4H).

The breakout session highlighted the benefits of taking a participatory systems approach to One Health implementation. We explored not only what to do (i.e. prevention), but also how to do it (i.e. dive into systemic practices). We looked at synergies and how to maximise them, discussing what this work means in the larger context of pandemic prevention at source.

Key points from the discussions

  1. Anthropogenic drivers of biodiversity degradation and loss highlight emerging health threats which are deeply embedded in both local and global matrices, unleashing catastrophic consequences for life on earth.
  2. The urgency of the hour demands integrated and systemic approaches that purposefully interlink the missions of halting biodiversity loss and protecting health simultaneously, to create sustainable solutions to our interconnected ecological and health crises.
  3. It is possible to simultaneously address the biodiversity and health crises as a growing number of programs are highlighting.
  4. Local stakeholders are absolutely critical for success and should define what success looks like, while governments and suitable governance structures are crucial to create enabling conditions.
Frank Peters | Fotografie

Workshop participants listening intently to a workshop input

Key actions:

…for governments:

  1. Donors are encouraged to break down existing siloed funding structures and strategically interlink funding streams, thereby facilitating the critical funding of integrated health projects that have the dual capacity to help countries meet their health and biodiversity commitments (while co-benefiting climate change mitigation and adaptation). They are encouraged to invest in programs at the biodiversity-health nexus for improved health through cost-effective prevention, while simultaneously contributing to biodiversity targets.
  2. PARITY (Participatory, Action-oriented, Responsive, Iterative, Transparent, Yielding) in action: Advocating for approaches that are inherently participatory and demand-driven – promoting iterative, non-linear pathways informed by continuous feedback loops, thereby cultivating resilient and adaptive strategies in biodiversity and health interventions.
  3. Global urgency governance: There is a need for globally coordinated, accelerating, long-term governance that responds to the urgent need for effective action: interdepartmental, cross-scale and coherent policymaking based on systematic coordination processes between outward- and inward-facing policy fields and oriented towards the guiding principle of healthy living on a healthy planet.
    …for stakeholders:
  4. Engage at different levels, i.e., at community level, influencers, and decision makers at local and district level, including engagement of sociologists, behavioural psychologists, marketing and communication experts, economists, political scientists, etc

All the key points and key actions have been established with the work and input of all the co-organisers, speakers and participants of the Breakout Sessions.

The documentation of the outcomes of all Breaking Barrier’s Breakout Sessions can be accessed here.

We are deeply grateful to our co-organizers, our funding and supporting ministries (BMZ & BMUV), to the speakers, our members, the participants and the event management team, who made this event a true success! A special thanks goes to our wonderful intern and new junior advisor: Mascha Kaddori and Ann-Kristin Konzak, without whom we could not have pulled our weight!