Everything is connected. To find sustainable health solutions for the planet, problems affecting the entire ecosystem must be addressed.
It was this concept, known as One Health, that prompted Dr. Ronald Mergl (MSc ’10) to enrol in Brock’s Master of Science program 11 years ago. Raising awareness of One Health and zoonotic diseases have remained the focus of the Niagara Falls veterinarian ever since.
“I’m a firm believer that the health of all humans is inextricably tied to the health of all animals and to the health of our environment,” Mergl says. “The One Health concept means that people and animals will have a sustainable and healthy future, only if our environment is clean, robust and nourishing.”
Through the study of zoonotic diseases — disorders that can be passed from animals to humans — Mergl gained an enhanced understanding of the actions communities need to start taking to prevent global health disasters.
“Many of the newly emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic,” Mergl explains. “As urban Canadians, we tend to think of veterinary medicine in the context of the health of the family pet as impacting our emotional and even physical well-being, but globally, there are a number of factors that lead to an increased rate of transmission of diseases.”
These conditions include:
- people and animals living in closer proximity than ever before
- deteriorating environmental conditions, which can accelerate the spread of a disease through the animal kingdom and facilitate transmission to humans
- and accelerated global travel and trade, which enables pathogens to be spread with astonishing speeds
Mergl has dedicated seven years to international volunteer work. During this time, he was actively involved with Veterinarians Without Borders Canada, working in the African nation of Malawi to prevent rabies transmission. He is also past Chair of the Rotary Human Rabies Prevention Project in Uganda, a community-based initiative that took place over five years.
“Transmission of avian influenza, rabies, salmonella, West Nile virus, Lyme disease and SARS are only a few examples of the diseases transmitted from animals harbouring the disease to people,” Mergl says. “In developed countries, it has become common knowledge that transmission is influenced by the health of the environment in which animals live, yet we are too often confronted with the lack of political will to sufficiently address our global environment and climate change.”
Despite the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals to address poverty, hunger, clean water, education, health, the environment, gender equality, peace, and stable economics, Mergl points out that “antibiotic resistance has become one of the frontline health problems we have today in both human and animal health.”
“Overuse of antibiotics in food-producing animals has contributed to this problem,” Mergl explains. “Raising animals in appropriate living conditions, with reduced antibiotic use and alternative therapies, is really the best way to address the control of pathogens.”
Without a healthy global environment, Mergl believes resilience cannot be built to address adverse health events.
“Never before has a generation of people possessed the technology and knowledge to truly fix the environmental health crisis that faces us,” he says. “Only through collaboration of health professionals of all disciplines and environmental scientists, as well as the governing bodies of all countries, can we gain the knowledge and develop actions to prevent global health disasters.”
Mergl is calling on all citizens to become more educated and involved. “By respecting the culture and basic rights of all people, paying attention to domestic and wild animal welfare and protecting our environment, we can improve the health of all.”