Dr. Waltner-Toews is urging the government of Canada to get ecohealth on the Rio+20 agenda. Below we reproduce the letter that he has sent to different ministries. As I read it, I think of the challenge of influencing global policy processes from our position as academics and practitioners:
Rio+20 (June 20-22, Brazil)– One Health and regaining the Moral High Ground;
In 1992, the (Conservative) Government of Canada announced a bold initiative at the original Rio Conference: the re-organization of Canada’s International Development Research Centre as the primary international research organization on issues related to sustainable development in the world. IDRC has lived up to that billing, bringing together researchers, governments, businesses and NGOs around the world to work at resolving the tough issues of how to improve human wellbeing on the planet without destroying it for our children.
Can the current government contribute something equally dramatic in Rio+ 20? I think so. Canada has become a global leader in One Health (and related programs in Ecohealth)- programs to integrate human health, animal health and environmental sustainability. Beyond the preeminence of Canada’s International Development Research Centre in ecology and health, this leadership has come from government agencies such as the Public Health Agency of Canada (which has a One Health initiative), and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, particularly Dr. Brian Evans, in how to prevent global pandemics and manage foodborne diseases by addressing them at source. Business have also taken leadership in this field, particularly in developing world-class sustainable agricultural and forestry practices. As have universities and NGOs, such as Veterinarians without Borders/ Vétérinaires sans Frontières - Canada (www.vwb-vsf.ca), and the Canadian Community of Practice for Ecosystem Approaches to Health (www.copeh-Canada.org) who have carried this Canadian expertise to all parts of the globe.
This leadership has emerged because Canadians have long recognized the fact that development can (and must) take place while safeguarding health and the environment, that more than 70% of human diseases (SARS, AIDS, Bird Flu, Swine Flu, rabies, and most foodborne diseases such as Salmonella and E. Coli) come from animals, and that food security and a healthy population are the foundations for peace. Through Canada’s work on the International Joint Commission of the Great Lakes and the ongoing work of the agencies and organizations cited above, we have developed institutional mechanisms and human resources for carrying this forward.
Lately, organizations such as the World Bank, Centers for Disease Control, the WHO, FAO, World Organization for Animal Health (OIE) have endorsed One Health as a global imperative the twenty-first century, where trade and travel link us in ever more intense ways. If rabies, SARS, or E. coli emerge in Bali or the Dominican Republic or Europe, they will (and already have) come home to Canada.
Canada has been, and can continue to be, a world leader in this field. It seems to me that by taking the initiative to announce global support for this One Health Initiative, where human wellbeing is the over-riding goal for stewarding the environment, Canada can once again take the high ground on the global stage.
If you wish any further information on this, including people within government who can help formulate the statements, please let me know.
Dr. David Waltner-Toews, Professor, Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph