Sri Lanka’s most prestigious Peradeniya University will be taking an important and enlightened step this week when it holds the One-Health International Conference on Friday and Saturday with a pre-conference workshop on Thursday. According to the organisers, all eight faculties of the university have been involved in planning the conference which is geared towards introducing definitions, concepts and basic theories in the One-Health approach to global health and much more.
They say One-Health is a new term for the time-tested ancient concept – that of the interdependence of human, animal and environmental health. Prof. Malik Peiris, the genius behind the One-Health. Conference, says most of the challenges we are facing in Sri Lanka and globally are not curable by mono-disciplinary solutions. He says the worldwide threats such as Ebola, MERS or Avian influenza and the Sri Lankan crises such as the chronic kidney disease provide evidence that the health of our environment is closely linked to human and animal health.
According to California Medical Professor Michael Wilkes, of the 1,415 infections agents identified during the past 10 years, 868 or about 60% were classified as those which could be transmitted between animals and people. The University of California is a leading player in developing the One-Health concept and the conference in Peradeneya this week is being held in association with it.
Scientists from several countries including China, the United States, Britain and Australia – representing diverse fields such as medicine, veterinary science, agriculture, physical and environmental sciences and the humanities - will take part in the Peradeniya conference along with policy makers and NGOs. Their goal will be to work out a paradigm shift where we could bring about closer links between human, animal and environmental health.
Through this conference, the Peradeniya University says it hopes to establish itself as an education hub for One-Health in Asia. While One-Health seems to be good and easy on paper, Prof. Peiris says achieving its goal will demand the loss of a cultural and ownership identity, resources and control. In a bid to bring different fields of study together to make Planet Earth a healthier place, each group of specialists would need to give up their claim to certain areas of knowledge and allow others to invade our zones of expertise and shift or re-mould settled patterns of understanding.
He says though there are major obstacles like the change of mindset and training, One-Health clearly is the way forward because the successful implementation will lead to new partnerships and new sustainable solutions.
Going beyond this concept, Sri Lankan public health analysts are also calling for a national medicinal policy where there will be a wide public awareness of the value and effects of alopathy and ayurveda, homoeopathy and acupuncture, pranic healing and related eastern ways of healing. At present millions of people especially in cities and suburbs are severely if not seriously over-dependent on western medicine which to a large extent has been turned into a big profit-making business. As a result, the role of ayurveda – which is part of our civilization – is being undermined. Though we still have thousands of medicinal herbs, we are continuing to import thousands of varieties of medicinal drugs under highly-expensive brand names. This is not only a colossal waste of foreign exchange but also over-doses of these imported drugs, some of them counterfeit, are known to be having calamitous side effects. One case during the week–end provides evidence of this. A 63-year-old man was given some strong drugs for a severe neck and back pain. After taking these for about two days, he got a severe hiccup for about nine hours. No western medicine or exercise could stop the hiccup, but when he drank a little bee’s honey, it stopped immediately. Indeed some sweet medicine for thought.