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One Health Bengaluru: A united approach to tackle health and environmental concerns

Debraj Manna & Mohit Nikalje

One Health Bengaluru Initiative, led by the Bengaluru Science and Technology Cluster (BeST), aims to minimise the spread of infectious diseases and benefit the environment by collaborating across several organisations. This multi-sectoral approach will help policymakers make informed decisions to control the spread of diseases and tackle environmental challenges. This article explores how the One Health approach paves the way for a healthier future.

BeST One Health title image
Launch of one health Bengaluru city consortium Photo Credit: BeST Cluster

As major parts of India experience a tropical climate, monsoons bring much-needed relief from the scorching summer heat. However, the monsoons also lead to an increase in deadly diseases such as malaria, typhoid, chikungunya, and dengue fever. While it is now well-known that dengue fever is spread through mosquito bites, this was unknown till only a few hundred years ago.

Infectious diseases can be vector-borne or zoonotic, among many other modes of transmission. Vectors are living organisms that transmit infectious organisms from one being to another. While blood-sucking insects like mosquitoes and ticks commonly act as vectors, other insects like flies can also serve this role. Dengue, Lyme disease, and malaria are examples of vector-borne diseases. Conversely, zoonotic diseases are transmitted directly from one organism to another without a vector. Rabies is a notable example of a zoonotic disease, transmitted to humans via the bite of a dog with rabies.

As the monsoons arrive, causing a spike in certain vector-borne infectious diseases, the Government and the local authorities intensify their medical services to treat patients. However, merely treating the sick is not a sufficient enough approach to prevent the spread of disease. 

So, what could be the solution to this longstanding health and welfare issue?
Periodical meeting with One health consortium partners. Photo Credit: BeST cluster
Periodical meeting with the One Health consortium partners. Photo Credit: BeST cluster

One Health Bengaluru: One answer for all health concerns

India, with its advanced scientific capabilities, has institutes and organisations addressing health concerns on various fronts, often in silos. The government’s One Health approach aims to integrate these organisations, private entities, and individual experts under one umbrella to tackle health challenges, among others.

Under the flagship of the One Health Bengaluru Initiative, more than 25 organisations across Bengaluru will partner with the Bengaluru Science and Technology cluster (BeST) — an initiative by the Office of Principle Scientific Advisor (OPSA) to the Government of India (GoI) — to combat vector-borne and zoonotic infectious diseases and environmental issues. The Bruhat Bengaluru Mahanagar Palike (BBMP) is a key partner and beneficiary of this programme and has set up a One Health cell in the city.

The One Health Initiative in Bengaluru draws inspiration from the National One Health Mission, which was established after the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic highlighted how human health is closely connected to environment and animal health, underscoring the need for an integrated approach targeting these areas. Sindura Ganapathi, a visiting PSA fellow working on the National One Health mission, explains, COVID-19 was a classic example where the infection had a wild animal origin, established itself in humans, and the human virus went back and established itself in other animals.”

Adopting this approach to combat vector-borne diseases and identifying the critical factors of disease spread is essential. For example, high human density plays a significant role in dengue. In densely populated areas, inadequate sanitation can lead to the rapid spread of diseases. By adopting a One Health approach, we can pinpoint and address these additional factors and drivers of disease spread.

Why namma Bengaluru?

A city is like an evolving lab — whatever happens in the city affects its outside world. For example, Bengaluru has a vast sewage network, and the treated water is released to outstation sites for agriculture,” says Farah Ishtiaq, Principal Scientist, Tata Institute for Genetics and Society (TIGS), and a theme coordinator at the One Health Bengaluru Initiative, highlighting how infectious diseases can spill over from cities to peri-urban and rural areas, and impact the entire food chain, affecting not just humans but also animals.

Be it the sweltering heat in the summers or the heavy rainfall at odd times — climate change has been affecting the world, and Bengaluru is no exception. These changes impact the health of animals and humans due to various reasons. Uma Ramakrishnan, Professor, National Centre for Biological Sciences (NCBS) and a theme coordinator at the One Health Bengaluru Initiative, says, 

Understanding the dynamics of urban centres in the context of the changing environment can have implications on health, making it a critical priority for India.

Besides the spread of infectious diseases and climate change affecting the city’s biodiversity, there’s another reason that makes Bengaluru unique. As illustrated by Suralkar Vikas Kishor, an Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officer and Special Commissioner of health to BBMP, Bengaluru is blessed with many research organisations and institutes with great capacities and industrial connections.” These entities together form the BeST cluster, and the cluster along with BBMP identified researchers, organisations, and other stakeholders working on different components of One Health to bring them together and integrate their efforts under the BBMP’s One Health Cell.

Brainstorming session with the stakeholders, for forming the committees under BBMP One health cell facilitated by BeST. Photo Credit: BeST cluster
Brainstorming session with the stakeholders for forming the committees under BBMP One Health cell facilitated by BeST. Photo Credit: BeST cluster

One Health Bengaluru: Past, present, and future

Ishtiaq explains how this initiative was conceived: We knew we should have people who are not just scientists but also social scientists, urban planners, engineers, people from the Government, and also citizens who can pitch in, who can look at Bengaluru from a One Health lens.” Besides these individuals, they also included partners like BBMP, who implement regulations in Bengaluru.

The team has been working on various problems with their expertise now. Ishtiaq mentions that they are monitoring sewage data for signatures of different pathogens, including the ones that cause COVID-19 and cholera. They are also working on the dog population in the city, the spread of rabies, livestock issues, the water crisis in the city, the spread and extent of antimicrobial resistance, etc. Partnering with hospitals, they are trying to use patient data to make informed decisions about the health and well-being of the people. In the future, they wish to generate predictive models that will be fed with multi-sectoral data spanning information on drivers of disease transmission and environmental data like temperature, rainfall, demographic information, and so on. These multi-layered models could predict areas likely to become hotspots, enabling local authorities to provide extra attention and resources to these high-risk areas.

The One Health Bengaluru Initiative exemplifies how targeted scientific research can lead to informed decision-making by policymakers. This program is a prime example of how science can directly benefit society. While this project is aimed at Bengaluru’s future, Taslimarif Saiyed, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Centre for Cellular and Molecular Platforms (C‑CAMP) and Co-Principal Investigator at the BeST cluster, says, Findings from this pilot project in Bengaluru can be replicated in other cities as well,” discussing the future potential of this project.