Dar es Salaam. The outbreak of Marburg Virus Disease in Tanzania and Equatorial Guinea is another reminder that human health can only be protected if the health of animals and the planet is protected, an approach known as ‘One Health.’
This is according to the Director-General of the World Health Organisation (WHO), Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who made the observation during a press conference in Geneva on Wednesday.
On March 21, 2022, Tanzania became the second African nation to report the disease after Equatorial Guinea, which reported it on February 7, 2023. In the past, the disease was reported in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda.
Speaking to reporters in Geneva, Dr Ghebreyesus said the number of confirmed Marburg cases in Tanzania remains at eight, with five people reported to have died of the disease.
“Three people are currently being treated in a health facility,” he told a press conference. “Two health workers are among the confirmed cases, including one death. So far, all of the reported cases are in one region [of Kagera].”
He said the disease outbreaks are another reminder that “we can only truly protect human health if we also protect the health of animals and our planet, which sustains all life. We call this a ‘One Health’ approach.”
WHO defines ‘One Health’ as an integrated, unifying approach to balance and optimise the health of people, animals and the environment. It allows multiple sectors, disciplines and communities at varying levels of society to work together.
Writing for The Chanzo on December 8, 2022, a One Health expert Dr Janeth George said that while Tanzania is making strides in applying the approach in tackling several health issues, more needs to be done for the country to benefit from the approach fully.
“For the ‘One Health’ approach to be efficient and give positive results, the government must use the approach at grassroots levels in close collaboration with other stakeholders,” Dr George argued.
During his press conference on Wednesday, WHO’s Dr Ghebreyesus said ‘One Health’ is not a new concept.
He said for decades, WHO has been partnering with FAO and the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH) in a tripartite partnership to address the health risks that arise from the interactions between humans, animals and the environment.
He called on countries to prioritise ‘One Health’ by strengthening policies, strategies, plans, evidence, investment and workforce needed to adequately address the threats that arise from people’s relationship with animals and the environment.
“A ‘One Health’ approach will be essential for preventing viruses from spilling from animals to humans,” Dr Ghebreyesus told a press conference.
“That’s how many outbreaks have started, including HIV, Marburg, Ebola, avian influenza, mpox, MERS and the SARS epidemic in 2003,” he added.
Regarding WHO’s support to Tanzania in its efforts to fight the Marburg Virus Disease, Dr Ghebreyesus said the organisation is teaming up with other partners to support the government to bridge any gaps in the response.
“As we said last week, WHO is working to integrate research into the response, including trials of vaccines and therapeutics,” he said.
“A WHO committee has now reviewed the evidence for four vaccines. Trial protocols are ready, and our partners are ready to support the trials.”
“We look forward to working with the governments of both countries [Equatorial Guinea and Tanzania] to begin these trials as soon as possible – to help prevent cases and deaths now and in future Marburg outbreaks.”