What is Conservation Medicine?
Conservation medicine is the intersection between human health, animal health, and environmental health. It is at the core of the One Health Initiative, which is rooted in the belief that the health of people is linked to the health of both animals and the environment. This approach to health is particularly significant because according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “6 out of every 10 infectious diseases in humans are spread from animals.” Diseases that can be transmitted from animals to humans and vice versa are known as zoonotic diseases. Well-known examples of such zoonotic diseases include rabies, salmonellosis, Ebola virus disease, and West Nile Virus.
While it is very easy to see the connection between human health and animal health, the role of environmental health may be a little more difficult to perceive, although it is just as important. Problems such as deforestation, pollution, and climate change all have repercussions that go beyond the environment.
The act of deforestation displaces countless different species, which disrupts the delicate balance of the ecosystem. This in turn can result in the extinction of certain species or the overpopulation of other species if certain predators or competitors are removed from the picture. If this disruption of the ecosystem affects pollinators, crops may fail to thrive, resulting in a food deficit. On the other hand, if pest species thrive, crops can also be affected and additionally, the spread of infectious diseases will also increase.
Climate change also has its impacts. A common misconception about climate change is that it is synonymous to global warming. While global warming is the phenomenon in which the overall temperature of the earth’s atmosphere is rising, climate change encompasses a wider range of phenomena to include global warming, rising sea levels, changes in plant blooming, and extreme weather events such as hurricanes, earthquakes, and tornadoes.
Studies have shown that there are spikes in the rates of infectious diseases incidents following extreme weather events. With the increase in global temperatures and rainfall, mosquitoes have been provided with the perfect environmental conditions to thrive, facilitating the recent Zika outbreak. Furthermore, extreme weather events may displace humans and animals, forcing them into situations where their exposure to infectious agents is increased.
Without considering animal health and environmental health, it is impossible to make any progress in improving human health. Whether you are looking at climate change, GMOs, deforestation, or infectious diseases, the fact that these three aspects are so closely intertwined just cannot be ignored. By broadening our perspectives to look at how human health, animal health, and environmental health interact and by facilitating the collaboration of multiple fields on local, national, and global levels, we can succeed in attaining the best health for all.
By Grace Kwon, Agriculture Program Coordinator, Cornell Cooperative Extension of Jefferson County
Last updated November 20, 2017