One Health Initiative


The One Health Initiative (OHI) is a collaborative effort of a number of health, medical, dental, and related organizations to study problems associated with humans and other animals.


The purpose of the One Health Initiative is to learn more about diseases that exist primarily or exclusively in animals, but that may also be transmitted to humans, and to develop policies and mechanisms for controlling the spread of these diseases.


The principles on which OHI are based are as old as medicine itself. As early as the fourth century BCE, the Greek physician Hippocrates (c. 460–c. 370 BCE) argued for an environmental origin of many human diseases. That idea was reborn many centuries later in the research of Italian physician Giovanni Maria Lancisi (1654–1720), whose work notably involved studies of the mechanisms by which influenza was spread through animal and human populations and the transmission of malaria from mosquito-infested swamps to human populations. A number of other physicians and medical researchers have further developed the theme that certain human diseases either have their origin in or are transmitted by way of nonhuman animals. German physician Rudolf Virchow (1821–1902), for example, coined the term zoonosis to describe diseases associated with animals (from the Greek, nosos, for “disease,” and zoo, for “animal”). Virchow argued that “between animal and human medicine there are no dividing lines–nor should there be.” One of Virchow's students, Canadian physician William Osler (1849–1919) brought Virchow's ideas to North America, where he put into practice those principles in his research on an outbreak of swine typhoid in Quebec in 1878.

The modern One Health (originally called One Medicine) movement is sometimes credited at least in part to the work of American veterinarian and Assistant Surgeon General James H. Steele who, in the 1940s, encouraged the health and medical communities to incorporate OHI thinking into their programs. He developed the first Veterinary Public Health Program in the Centers for Disease Control (now the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) and was responsible for the inclusion of veterinarians in the U.S. Public Health Service for the first time in 1947. In April 2007, the Executive Board of the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) appointed a committee, the One Health Initiative Task Force (OHITF) to consider the creation of a campaign to facilitate the collaboration of professionals in a variety of health-related fields to study diseases transmitted across species lines and non-transmitted diseases with similar characteristics in different species. A report issued by that committee in 2008 forms the basis for the present-day One Health Initiative campaign.


The relevance of the One Health movement to modern medicine is based on the fact that nearly 60 percent of the 1,461 diseases now recognized in humans are transmitted by pathogens that move across species lines. In addition about three quarters of new infectious diseases in humans identified in recent years are zoonotic. A partial list of some of the zoonotic diseases of greatest concern in the early twenty first century are:

As the world's population continues to increase in size and extends its demand for meat protein, the risk of cross-species infections in humans will almost certainly increase. Proponents of the One Health philosophy argue that these data suggest that the next generation of human population may be the first one in recent history to experience a decrease in life expectancy because of the spread of new infectious diseases, many zoonotic in character. They suggest that one of the best approaches for dealing with this growing problem is to develop health programs that brings together professionals from a wide range of fields, including many specialized fields of medicine, veterinary medicine, osteopathy, nursing, dentistry, public health, and environmental health to solve the spread of zoonotic diseases.

The authors of the 2008 OHITF report point out that the early twenty first century may be about to experience a “perfect microbial storm” with which the world's medical community may not be prepared to deal and for which a One Health approach may be required. That “perfect storm” consists of a number of elements, including

Proponents of a One Health approach to health and medical issues point to a number of examples of the issues with which they are concerned that have already occurred in recent years. These examples include

A disease-causing organism.
An organism capable of transferring an infectious disease from one organism to a different organism.
Having to do with diseases associated primarily with nonhuman animals.

It is the primary goal of the One Health Initiative to deal with issues such as these. The mission statement of OHI outlines the methods by which the organization hopes to achieve its goals. It calls for joint efforts among professionals from all fields of health and medicine to

One Health Initiative publishes a quarterly newsletter containing information about recent advances in the field of zoonotic diseases and related issues. It also provides links on its website to articles in peer-reviewed publications on the topic. Perhaps its most important activity is the sponsorship and co-sponsorship of a number of seminars, symposiums, conferences, conventions, and other meetings on topics related to cross-species disease transmission. Examples of the topics covered in those meetings include emerging infectious diseases, antimicrobial use and resistance, the human-animal bond in veterinary medicine, neglected influenza, building bridges between animal and human health, and the ongoing threat of smallpox.

See also Malaria ; Smallpox ; Vector (mosquito) control .



Carter, Craig Nash. One Man, One Medicine, One Health: The James H. Steele Story. Charleston, SC: BookSurge, 2011.

Chorrnes, Eileen R., et al., eds. Improving Food Safety Through a One Health Approach: Workshop Summary. Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 2011.

Fox, Michael W. Healing Animals & The Vision of One Health: Earth Care & Human Care. North Charleston, SC: CreateSpace, 2011.


Coker, R., et al. “Towards a Conceptual Framework to Support One-health Research for Policy on Emerging Zoonoses.” Lancet Infectious Diseases 11, 4. (2011): 326–31.

Day, M. J. “One Health: The Importance of Companion Animal Vector-borne Diseases.” Parasites and Vectors 13, 4. (2011): 49.

Narrod, C., J. Zinsstag, and M. Tiongco. “A One Health Framework for Estimating the Economic Costs of Zoonotic Diseases on Society.” Ecohealth 9, 2. (2012): 150–62.

Zinsstag, J., et al. “Mainstreaming One Health.” Ecohealth 9, 2. (2012): 107–10.


American Veterinary Medical Association. “One Health Initiative Task Force: Final Report.” (accessed on October 19, 2012).

“One Health: It's All Connected.” American Veterinary Medical Association. (accessed on October 20, 2012).

“One Health Initiative.” (accessed on October 20, 2012).

“One Health Office.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (accessed on October 20, 2012).


American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA), 1931 North Meacham Rd., Suite 100, Schaumburg, IL, USA, 60173–4360, (800) 248–2862, Fax: 1(847) 925–1329, , .

David E. Newton, EdD

  This information is not a tool for self-diagnosis or a substitute for professional care.