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Despite the fact that the One Health approach was well on its way to preventing the COVID-19 pandemic before it ever broke out, few people had ever heard of this approach’s existence. Nevertheless, if it accomplishes what it has been designed to do since it emerged in the early 2000s – that being, to prevent global pandemics by bringing together the fields of human, animal and environmental health – it will hold no claim to fame, as it will be the undercover agent stopping a major catastrophe before it starts.
Jonna Mazet, who is in numerous ways at the helm of the One Health approach, is similarly humble about her own career in scientific and health leadership. “I didn’t start my career thinking, ‘What can I do to become a scientific leader?’ ” she recalled in an interview with Landscape News. “My frame of reference didn’t allow it, and my vision was much different and, some would say, naïve. Rather, I thought, ‘How can I contribute, even a tiniest bit, to saving the world?’ ”
This not only involves high-risk field and lab research and pharmaceutical innovation, but also environmental conservation and restoration of degraded landscapes where disease spillover from animals to humans often occurs.
Now a member of the prestigious U.S. National Academy of Medicine since 2013, Mazet sits on the board of directors of the Global Virome Project, the preeminent initiative to identify and prevent outbreaks of emerging infectious diseases, and co-directs a USAID-funded USD 85 million educational project to empower health professionals in Africa and Southeast Asia. Prior, she served as executive director of the PREDICT Project, also funded by USAID with 200 million to give early warning on viral emergence, which discovered more than 160 new coronaviruses in 35 countries, as well as detected more than 500 bat coronavirus variants or strains in China in the past decade.
Indeed, One Health scientists were close to identifying SARS-CoV-2 before it broke out, and indeed, they are tirelessly working to do so for whatever viral threat could turn into the next pandemic if they don’t.
“We have to integrate science, health, communication, economics and other fields and build trust to set up a ready and resilient system to protect health for all. The beauty is that if we do this well, we will be looking at environmental and social drivers for planetary health that also can have positive impacts on many other critical problems, such as climate change,” she said. “We must recognize that the devastating tragedy of the pandemic has provided us with an opportunity to come together and do things differently. We don’t have to allow ourselves to get into this situation again.”