Fostering Interdisciplinary Collaboration through One Health in Ecuador

One Health is an approach to public health work that emphasizes the importance of the interconnection between people, animals and the environment as it relates to health. Although these sectors are separate, One Health’s aim is to address critical issues in the world through collaboration among the animal, human and environmental institutions. Key health issues–such as zoonotic diseases, food safety and environmental contamination–require this approach to protect the health of the world. One sector cannot do so alone.

Health professionals of the One Health pilot present their work to the cohort. Photo courtesy of Jaqueline Espinosa.

The Ecuador Field Epidemiology Training Program (FETP) recently participated in a mentor training and pilot of a One Health (“Una Sola Salud”) component for their frontline curriculum, supported by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and TEPHINET. As a program, the Ecuador FETP strives to improve public health surveillance and knows that a crucial first step is to create institutional relationships that foster multisectoral work. Jacqueline Espinosa, Resident Advisor for the FETP, shared that applying a One Health approach is important for promoting coordinated work among all sectors, rather than working in silos. The One Health curriculum provides an opportunity for professionals from the human, animal and environmental sectors to learn from one another, build meaningful connections, and foster multidisciplinary work to strengthen disease surveillance in the country.

The pilot, which ran from October-December 2022, included 22 professionals from Ecuador’s agricultural/animal and health sectors. The cohort was made up of a diverse group of health professionals with backgrounds in epidemiology, laboratory work, veterinary science, food safety, community health and medicine, and more. Over the course of three months, trainees participated in workshops and field work that applied a “learn by doing” approach. Trainees had the opportunity for real-world application of their skills through field work that included intersectoral site visits, data sharing, surveillance reports, data quality audits, case and outbreak investigations, and problem analysis with implementation plans. Throughout the process, the cohort engaged in cross-sector collaboration, and were exposed to sectors outside of their own profession.

Members of the One Health cohort work together during one of the workshops.Photo courtesy of Jaqueline Espinosa.

The pilot was a great opportunity to see the true potential of the One Health approach–namely, the way that intersectoral collaborative work can improve disease surveillance. It also provides an opportunity to share lessons learned with other FETPs interested in adding a One Health component to their curriculum. “As a pilot, we want to contribute to publicizing the lessons learned and improvements to the curriculum and materials to facilitate implementation in other countries,” said Espinosa.  

She shared that working with different sectors to both prepare for and implement this pilot came with some difficulties, particularly in regard to how a cross-sectorial group handles data. Espinosa stated, “It was an interesting exercise because of the data–sharing between sectors and analyzing it in a joint manner”. Although there were challenges in working with sectors outside of human health, Espinoza highlighted the advantages of bringing together expertise from diverse backgrounds.