Rapid and profound socio-ecological changes are driving a species extinction crisis while severely impacting the health—of people, wildlife2, domesticated animals, and plants. This is happening not in a remote landscape or in some distant future, but here and now—and immediate action is imperative. Outbreaks and the international spread of infectious (communicable) diseases impacting people, animals and plants, and the emergent threat of antimicrobial resistance, remind us of a basic fact that cannot be ignored: Human, animal, plant and environmental health and well-being are all intrinsically connected and profoundly influenced by human activities. Environmental changes such as rapid urbanization and the burning of fossil fuels increase carbon dioxide emissions, air pollution and deposition of persistent pollutants which worsen the impact of non-communicable diseases (NCDs)3 in humans, animals, and plants. Heat spikes give rise to dehydration which subsequently compromises the cardiovascular system, in animals as well as people (especially in the young and the elderly). Air pollution exacerbates NCDs such as chronic obstructive airway disease (COPD), diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, including stroke. Beyond the cities, increased heat and flooding destroy fertile land causing undernutrition and micro-nutrient deficiencies in poor populations.
It is also critical to reinforce that we are predominantly failing the poor –The Bottom Billion– together with their livestock and the environment on which they directly depend, driven by the unbridled and ever-increasing consumption patterns and associated environmental destruction. From the remotest terrestrial wilderness to the deepest ocean, to the most densely populated cities, life on our planet is being fundamentally and profoundly harmed by species loss, habitat and soil degradation, pollution, wholesale destruction of forests and coral reefs, illegal and unsustainable exploitation of wild species, and invasive species, all of which are exacerbated by the global climate crisis. Emerging and resurging communicable diseases and exacerbation of non-communicable diseases threaten not only humans (and their security, food supplies, economies, and societies at large) but also the fauna and flora that comprise the critically needed biodiversity that supports the very infrastructure of life on our planet.
Today broad consensus exists that health entails more than the absence of infectious disease; it must incorporate socio-economic, political, evolutionary, and environmental factors while considering individual attributes and behaviours. To address the myriad of health challenges of the 21st century while ensuring the biological integrity of the planet for current and future generations, we need to strengthen existing interdisciplinary and cross-sectoral approaches that address not only disease prevention (communicable and non-communicable), surveillance, monitoring, control, and mitigation but also biodiversity conservation.
No one group, discipline or sector of society holds enough knowledge and resources to singlehandedly prevent the emergence or resurgence of diseases while maintaining and improving the health and well-being of all species in today’s globalized world. No one country can reverse the patterns of land-use change, marine degradation, carbon release, soil degradation, environmental pollution, and species extinctions that, if left unmitigated, undermine the health of people and animals. Intensive work within each discipline is essential to develop expertise. However, research and practices that bridge traditional disciplinary silos are a prerequisite to resolving the impact of continued human development and growth.
The quality of current and future human and animal health and well-being depend on the success of humanity’s environmental stewardship. Going forward, utilizing the UN Sustainable Development Goals for guidance, we must overcome sectoral and disciplinary silos; apply adaptive, forward reasoning; and implement multidisciplinary and multilateral solutions, while boldly integrating current uncertainties to address the opportunities and challenges ahead.
THE BERLIN PRINCIPLES
We urge world leaders, governments, civil society, the global health and conservation communities, academia and scientific institutions, business, finance leaders, and investment holders to:
1) Recognize and take action to: retain the essential health links between humans, wildlife, domesticated animals and plants, and all nature; and ensure the conservation and protection of biodiversity, which interwoven with intact and functional ecosystems provides the critical foundational infrastructure of life, health and well-being on our planet;
2) Take action to develop strong institutions that integrate understanding of human and animal health with the health of the environment and invest in the translation of robust sciencebased knowledge into policy and practice;
3) Take action to combat the current climate crisis, which is creating new severe threats to human, animal and environmental health, and exacerbating existing challenges;
4) Recognize that decisions regarding land, air, sea, and freshwater use directly impact health and wellbeing of humans, animals and ecosystems and that alterations in ecosystems paired with decreased resilience generate shifts in communicable and non-communicable disease emergence, exacerbation and spread; and take action accordingly to eliminate or mitigate these impacts;
5) Devise adaptive, holistic and forward-looking approaches to the detection, prevention, monitoring, control and mitigation of emerging/resurging diseases and exacerbating communicable and non-communicable diseases, that incorporate the complex interconnections among species, ecosystems, and human society, while accounting fully for harmful economic drivers, and perverse subsidies;
6) Take action to meaningfully integrate biodiversity conservation perspectives and human health and well-being when developing solutions for communicable and non-communicable disease threats;
7) Increase cross-sectoral investment in the global human, livestock, wildlife, plant and ecosystem health infrastructure and international funding mechanisms for the protection of ecosystems, commensurate with the serious nature of emerging/resurging and exacerbating communicable and non-communicable disease threats to life on our planet;
8) Enhance capacity for cross-sectoral and trans-disciplinary health surveillance and clear, timely information sharing to improve coordination of responses among governments and NGOs, health, academia and other institutions, industry and other stakeholders;
9) Form participatory, collaborative relationships among governments, NGOs, and Indigenous Peoples and local communities while strengthening the public sector to meet the challenges of global health and biodiversity conservation; and
10) Invest in educating and raising awareness for global citizenship and holistic planetary health approaches among children and adults in schools, communities, and universities while also influencing policy processes to increase recognition that human health ultimately depends on ecosystem integrity and a healthy planet.