University of Calgary

World Health Day

April 7, 2011

UCVM faculty speaks out on World Health Day

By Jennifer Alford

Dr. Craig StephenDr. Craig StephenDr. Craig Stephen, professor of Ecosystem Health in the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine says strategies that include both human and animal health are needed to address antimicrobial resistance, the theme of this year’s World Health Organization (WHO) World Health Day.

WHO says antimicrobial resistance is an increasingly dangerous problem and it is using its annual World Health Day to draw attention to the issue. In a series of events today, WHO is calling for urgent and consolidated efforts to avoid regression to the pre-antibiotic era. WHO is urging governments and stakeholders around the world to implement policies and practices that will prevent and counter the emergence of highly resistant microorganisms.

“Effective strategies will need a collaborative, cooperative and integrated approach to policies and programs,” says Stephen, who sits on the Advisory Board for the National Collaborating Centre for Infectious Diseases. “This is not a human issue. It’s not an animal issue, this is a shared issue. We are definitely in the same pool of antibiotics and we’re in the same pool of bacteria.”

Stephen says instead of looking to assign blame—to doctors for over prescribing antibiotics or the food industry for using antibiotics to promote animal growth—public health and agricultural agencies need to work together to develop effective strategies, one of which should be keeping people and animals from getting sick in the first place.

“Yes, people are still working on trying to discover that next antibiotic, but clearly the most important thing we can do to reduce antimicrobial use is to keep everything healthy.”

He says while health prevention is well funded for people, research agencies are less inclined to fund health prevention research around animals. “We have been a ‘chase the bug’ approach and ‘find the drug’ approach,” he says.

“I guarantee you if I could go to the farmers and find a way to keep their animals as healthy and productive and economically efficient without antibiotics, they’d jump at it.”

Stephen is also the director of the independent non-profit Centre for Coastal Health in Nanaimo, a research network that works to identify and understand the interactions of human, animal and environmental health.

He is working with the World Bank to develop a new tool to help countries to assess their “One Health” status. One Health is a global strategy to encourage collaborations between physicians, osteopaths, veterinarians, dentists, nurses and other scientific-health and environmentally related disciplines to accelerate biomedical research, enhance public health, expand knowledge and improve clinical care.

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