One Arctic, One Health

12 June 2020
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, communities and leaders around the world and across the Arctic are increasing attention to health issues and challenges. Rapid social and environmental change in the Arctic – including climate change – affect the health and well-being of millions of humans and animals that call the Arctic home. To manage these risks effectively, one needs to look at the ecosystem as a whole – for a healthy environment, healthy humans and healthy animals. This is the One Health approach.

The Arctic Council Sustainable Development Working Group (SDWG) One Arctic, One Health project is designed to strengthen circumpolar knowledge and practice on disease outbreaks, natural disasters and related phenomena. The COVID-19 pandemic has vividly and tragically reinforced the need for such preparedness.

What is the goal of One Arctic, One Health?

The project aims to strengthen circumpolar networks to address One Health phenomena via a combination of knowledge sharing, tabletop exercises and collaborative investigations. The goal is to establish One Health points of contacts within each Arctic State and Permanent Participant organization, that can rapidly receive and process inquiries related to collaboration from other points of contacts on an ongoing basis.

The project framework and recommendations have twice been accepted by Arctic Council ministers – in 2017 and 2019.

How does the project work?

Project leads from Canada, Finland and the United States work in close cooperation with other Arctic Council States, Permanent Participants and Observers to identify topics and leverage circumpolar mechanisms for convening meetings.

The Arctic Human Health Expert Group – a selection of health-focused specialists that provide guidance and expertise to the SDWG – has provided invaluable contributions in the form of time and advice on priority One Health phenomena of interest such as disease outbreaks and natural disasters.

The project adopts an inclusive approach, creating space for the expertise of traditional and local knowledge holders, including land-based knowledge holders, as well as non-traditional stakeholders, such as the University of Minnesota, the Volkswagen Foundation and circumpolar research teams.

What are some key successes to date?

  • A circumpolar questionnaire on One Health awareness and practices – one of the largest knowledge gathering activities of its kind – in 2015
  • Tabletop exercises in the United States and Canada – the first Arctic Council exercises on health issues – in 2017 and 2018
  • An International Visitor Leadership program that brought circumpolar One Health experts to Minnesota and Alaska in 2018
  • One Arctic – One Health research projects
  • A circumpolar One Health conference in Oulu, Finland in 2019
  • A workshop focused on pathogens in thawing permafrost in Hannover, Germany, in 2019

2019 Recommendations from the One Health project to Arctic ministers:

  • The Arctic Council and SDWG should continue to promote One Health as a key strategy for regional resilience.
  • The Arctic Council and SDWG should continue to play a valuable role by forming a platform for knowledge sharing, simulated exercises and collaborative investigations of One Health phenomena, and by creating avenues for the inclusion of traditional knowledge and local knowledge as a key aspect of One Health understanding and practice in the Arctic region.
  • The Arctic Council, SDWG, Arctic States, Permanent Participants, Accredited Observers and Arctic communities should promote regular and recurring tabletop exercises as well as other international collaborative investigations, educational programs and exchange as tools for continued capacity building and relationship strengthening. Sharing plans for, progress toward and results of international collaboration with affected communities is a key to successful work.
  • Arctic Council States, Permanent Participants and Observers should identify and empower One Health points of contact that allow simplified communications in the event of a trans-boundary or circumpolar One Health event, and can provide a framework for future capacity building and coordination activities.
For more information, visit the One Health project page, factsheet or contact Jennifer Spence, SDWG Executive Secretary at secretariat@sdwg.org.