A couple of weeks ago we toured the Wildlife Health Center at the Bronx Zoo with Dr. William Karesh, director of the field veterinary program for the Wildlife Conservation Society and VP for WCS’s Global Health Program.
We learned that veterinarians from the Wildlife Health Center do rounds for all animals in NYC’s zoos and aquarium; animals needing special care are brought to the center. Health records for all animals in zoos are electronic and are maintained with common software – making it straightforward for health records to be transferred whenever the animal is transferred from zoo to zoo, anywhere in the world, and of course facilitating research.
Animal health seems far removed from human health – not only in that it’s much harder for caregivers to see any person’s prior health records than it is for vets to see an animal’s. We think of wildlife health as distinct from our own. Even when an event like the 2001 foot-and-mouth disease outbreak in Britain causes us economic distress and affords people the ghastly sight of piles of cow carcasses piled up in farm fields, we don’t see the connections easily.
Increasingly, it’s becoming apparent that the health of human populations depends on equilibria in the wider world. We have our military-style campaigns to defend Fortress Humanity from microbial invaders: we use antibiotics, vaccination, and close monitoring of routes of ingress via food and water. They work, at least up to a point. But the evidence of MRSA, antibiotic-resistant TB, avian flu, S. Saintpaul in jalapeño peppers, and the new swine flu is that those measures aren’t perfect. There’s not going to be any Conquest of Contagion (as Charles E.-A. Winslow put it in 1943), and so-called victories such as the use of immunization to eradicate smallpox and control polio won’t be repeatable for every germ.
In the long run, as the One World, One Health movement suggests, we’ll have to shift to a much broader view of the planet as a system – in which we humans are co-resident with other species. We might manage to ward off a serious flu outbreak with vaccine (the jury’s still out on whether the current swine flu strain can become highly damaging or not, but it’s reasonable to think that some flu strain might). And we should improve food-safety systems to guard against outbreaks of salmonellosis and the like. But we have to move toward a more complex understanding of how human health, animal health, environmental conditions, and international transfers of food, animals, goods, and people interact, especially with respect to the movements of microbes.
In that regard, it’s troubling to learn from DemFromCT’s post at DailyKos yesterday that Sen. Max Baucus says that a new healthcare plan in the U.S. will not cover undocumented immigrants. It’s cruel, of course, to deny care to immigrants. But it’s also shortsighted.
If we continue to have a huge, frequently mobile proletariat of migrant workers forced by economic duress to travel from country to country in search of a living wage and we also make it impossible for them to get care, we’re harming ourselves. Even those who aren’t moved by the humanitarian aim of ensuring all individuals a decent life should be moved by self-interest. Creating a means by which disease and disability can move around with the people who suffer from them will undermine whatever arrangements we make for health.
One Health means we have to think about the interactions of many species – and it’s ridiculous to exclude some members of our own.
This entry was posted on Saturday, May 23rd, 2009 at 10:12 am and is filed under Disease, News, public health. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.