By Australia’s Ambassador for Regional Health Security Dr Stephanie Williams, on behalf of the Indo-Pacific Centre for Health Security
The natural environment, production systems, the urban environment, and human health and wellness are interlinked. As one example, climate change is impacting biodiversity, increasing temperatures, altering water systems and animal behaviour, and increasing the intensity of environmental disasters. These impacts threaten livelihoods, food security and health systems, and are likely to influence the emergence, resurgence and distribution of infectious diseases around the world.
One Health is a unifying approach that aims to sustainably balance and optimise the health of people, animals and ecosystems.
Appropriate biosecurity measures are an important way to prevent diseases spreading through the environment and between animals and humans. These measures are particularly needed on farms and in animal and human health laboratories.
The Indo-Pacific Centre for Health Security is a part of Australia’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. The Centre partners with organisations such as ACIAR, working with governments in the Pacific region and South-East Asia to support regional infectious disease control, detection and response in both animals and humans.
Partnerships for engagement
Partnerships are essential to enable collaboration of research, sharing of information and joint use of finite resources. The Indo-Pacific Centre for Health Security has built a strong relationship with the Australian Centre for Disease Preparedness (ACDP), run by science research agency CSIRO.
The partnership with ACDP aims to improve systems, structures and processes that support quality laboratory diagnostics in partner government institutions in South-East Asia, enabling biosafety, quality assurance, laboratory data management and communication within facilities. Importantly, it helps laboratories to generate consistently accurate testing results when identifying pathogens and resistance.
The ACDP partnership is providing training and mentoring in diagnostic disciplines including pathology, virology, tissue culture, serology, genome sequencing and bioinformatics. This approach helps to build staff competency, increase the number of trained staff and provides opportunities to improve diagnostic processes to align with international best practice.
As is the case with ACIAR, gender equality and promoting opportunities for women in leadership are priorities within all the Centre’s partnerships. It provides specific opportunities, such as short research activities and laboratory placements, to develop women’s leadership skills, building expertise and professional relationships.
The Centre also partners with the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH) to support countries in South-East Asia and the Pacific region. This partnership was established in 2019 and supports the WOAH Performance of Veterinary Services (PVS) cycle with a focus on delivering national bridging workshops.
The workshops are a joint effort by WOAH and the World Health Organization to bring human and animal health counterparts together to identify priority areas where they can work together to improve the national health security system.
WOAH also makes available targeted support under the PVS cycle to strengthen the capacity of veterinary services using diverse training methods, ranging from more traditional physical formats to the delivery of e-learning modules. It supports improved and timely reporting to global disease surveillance systems by training veterinary services to use the World Animal Health Information System and its data to inform decision-making.
Tackling antimicrobial resistance
It is not just diseases that can spread through human health, animal health and ecological systems. Antimicrobial resistance (AMR) undermines the effective treatments of many human and animal diseases. It is increasingly recognised as a major challenge across the world. Support to address AMR in low-income to middle-income countries mostly targets countries in the African and Asian regions, leaving gaps in the Pacific region.
The Research for One Health Systems Strengthening (ROHSS) Program is a partnership between the Indo-Pacific Centre for Health Security and ACIAR, which includes a project to support Fiji’s multisectoral National AMR Coordination Committee. This project is led by CSIRO and is helping the committee implement the National Antimicrobial Resistance Action Plan. Fiji was the first Pacific country to create an AMR action plan.
The ROHSS project ‘Enhancing the management of antimicrobial resistance in Fiji’ has been determining opportunities and gaps for integrated surveillance and training for practitioners and professionals working on AMR. This includes laboratory technicians, human healthcare support workers and animal health workers.
Its aim is to position Fiji as a leader for AMR efforts and skills training in the Pacific region and to make recommendations for cost-effective One Health AMR intervention pathways and surveillance suitable for Fiji’s Pacific context. This, in-turn, will be able to help partner countries in the Pacific region.
Research to strengthen One Health systems
The Research for One Health Systems Strengthening (ROHSS) Program is co-funded by ACIAR and the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT). It is managed by ACIAR and delivered through a partnership with the DFAT Indo-Pacific Centre for Health Security.
The program is bringing together leading Australian researchers and regional counterparts to address issues at the critical interface between people, animals and the environment. A better understanding of the impacts of food production and other agricultural activities on human health and the environment can help generate the evidence base for moving forward with One Health across the Indo-Pacific region. Research plays a critical role in this.
The Indo-Pacific Centre for Health Security has valuable experience in strengthening human health systems and ACIAR has expertise in agricultural systems research. Working together, these two agencies have made a significant contribution to intersectoral and multidisciplinary approaches that address One Health in a sustainable way across the Indo-Pacific region.