One Health as a moral dilemma : Towards a socially responsible zoonotic disease control

Herten, Joost van; Bovenkerk, Bernice; Verweij, Marcel


During the last decade, the concept of One Health has become the international standard for zoonotic disease control. This call for transdisciplinary collaboration between professionals in human, animal and environmental health has produced several successes in zoonotic disease control, surveillance and research. Despite the lack of a clear definition, a shared agenda or institutional governance, One Health has proven to be a fruitful idea. Due to its ambiguity, the One Health concept functions as a boundary object: by leaving room for interpretation to fit different purposes, it facilitates cooperation. In many cases, this results in the promotion of health of humans, animals and the environment. However, there are also situations in which this mutual benefit of a One Health approach is not that evident, for instance, when healthy animals are culled to protect public health. Although such a strategy could well be part of a One Health approach, it is hard to understand how this contributes to the health of concerning animals. Consequently, these practices often lead to public debate. This raises questions on how we should understand the One Health concept in zoonotic disease control. Is it really about equally improving the health of humans, animals and the environment and is this even possible? Or is it ultimately just public health that counts? In cases of conflict between different values, the lack of a universal definition of the One Health concept contributes to this complexity. Although boundary objects have many positive aspects, in the context of One Health and zoonotic disease control, this conception seems to conceal underlying normative differences. To address moral dilemmas related to a One Health approach in zoonotic disease control, it is important to reflect on moral status and the meaning of health for humans, animals and the environment.