Advancing One Health in Central America

With support from TEPHINET and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Central American countries are working to create a framework for a One Health approach to zoonotic disease threats.

Throughout 2021, countries in Central America have been working with TEPHINET, the U.S. CDC’s One Health Office and Central America Regional (CAR) office, and the Executive Secretariat of the Council of Ministers of Health of Central America and the Dominican Republic (SE-COMISCA) to implement a One Health approach to address zoonotic disease threats in the region. 

One Health is a collaborative, multisectoral, and transdisciplinary approach—working at the local, regional, national, and global levels—with the goal of achieving optimal health outcomes by recognizing the interconnection between people, animals, plants, and their shared environment. Wednesday, November 3 marks the sixth annual One Health Day, an opportunity to highlight the importance of applying a One Health approach to public health threats at the human-animal-environment interface, and to celebrate the work being done to drive collaboration among leaders in these sectors.

Beginning in February 2021, TEPHINET and CDC worked closely with COMISCA to identify Central American countries interested in utilizing the One Health Zoonotic Disease Prioritization (OHZDP) Process, which brings together representatives from the human, animal, and environmental health sectors to prioritize zoonotic diseases of greatest concern for One Health collaboration and development of recommendations and action plans for effectively addressing those threats. Honduras and El Salvador have been the first countries to begin the OHZDP Process in the region, which has included holding meetings with representatives from key ministries. On August 11, 2021, David Rodriquez, Epidemiology Coordinator for SE-COMISCA and the Central American Field Epidemiology Network (REDCEC), coordinated a high-level meeting with the Ministries of Health, Defense, Environment, and Agriculture and Livestock of El Salvador to discuss One Health and the OHZDP Process. During this meeting all attendees expressed full support for advancing One Health within their country. 

To build country capacity around One Health, a critical component of the OHZDP Process is to train national representatives from the One Health sectors to serve as facilitators for their country’s OHZDP workshop to develop a list of priority zoonotic diseases to address. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the CDC One Health Office has adapted the OHZDP facilitator training for the first time into a virtual format for El Salvador and Honduras. Two of the four virtual training sessions have been delivered, with the final two virtual sessions slated to occur in November and December 2021. These virtual sessions will be followed with an in-person session prior to the country’s OHZDP workshop. TEPHINET has played a critical role in the coordination of these training sessions, which have been facilitated by CDC One Health Office trainers Grace Goryoka, Nadia Gallardo Romero, and Italo Zecca. COMISCA has also served as a key partner, providing funding for supplemental meetings and ancillary activities.

“CDC’s One Health Office is excited to collaborate with COMISCA and One Health sectors in Belize, El Salvador, and Honduras in strengthening and advancing One Health across the region. The OHZDP Process is a great way to bring partners together and share their sector’s perspectives with the goal of developing a priority zoonotic disease list for One Health collaboration and identifying next steps and action plans to address those priority zoonotic diseases and advance One Health, ” said Grace Goryoka of the One Health Office.

Following the completion of the OHZDP facilitator training, countries will begin the preparation process for the OHZDP workshop. The workshops are designed to be held in person, but given the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic and shifting travel constraints, project partners have determined that the workshops will be put on hold until it is safe to gather people together.

Countries in South America have also expressed interest in the OHZDP Process, with introductory meetings held with ministries in Argentina, Paraguay, Peru, and Uruguay in late July of this year. Further engagement is expected to occur in the coming months as partners work to identify facilitators in each of the interested countries. 

One Health has continued to gain importance across the Central America region and globally. The COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted the impacts of zoonotic diseases, emphasizing the need to communicate, collaborate, and coordinate across public health, animal health, and environmental sectors to prevent and control zoonotic disease threats. Given that 60 percent of human diseases are of animal origin, collaborative strategies that apply a One Health approach are essential for ensuring the health of populations and promoting global health security.