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Open Access Research article

One Health and EcoHealth in Ontario: a qualitative study exploring how holistic and integrative approaches are shaping public health practice in Ontario

Zee Leung12*, Dean Middleton2 and Karen Morrison1

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Population Medicine, Ontario Veterinary College, University of Guelph, Guelph, Canada

2 Public Health Ontario, Toronto, Canada

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BMC Public Health 2012, 12:358  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-12-358

Published: 16 May 2012

Abstract

Background

There is a growing recognition that many public health issues are complex and can be best understood by examining the relationship between human health and the health of the ecosystems in which people live. Two approaches, One Health and Ecosystem Approaches to Health (EcoHealth), can help us to better understand these intricate and complex connections, and appear to hold great promise for tackling many modern public health dilemmas. Although both One Health and EcoHealth have garnered recognition from numerous health bodies in Canada and abroad, there is still a need to better understand how these approaches are shaping the practice of public health in Ontario.

The purpose of this study was to characterize how public health actors in Ontario are influenced by the holistic principles which underlie One Health and EcoHealth, and to identify important lessons from their experiences.

Methods

Ten semi-structured interviews were conducted with ten participants from the public health sphere in Ontario. Participants encompassed diverse perspectives including infectious disease, food systems, urban agriculture, and environmental health. Interviews were recorded, transcribed and analyzed using qualitative content analysis to identify major themes and patterns.

Results

Four major themes emerged from the interviews: the importance of connecting human health with the environment; the role of governance in promoting these ideas; the value of partnerships and collaborations in public health practice; and the challenge of operationalizing holistic approaches to public health. Overall study participants were found to be heavily influenced by concepts couched in EcoHealth and One Health literature, despite a lack of familiarity with these fields.

Conclusions

Although One Health and EcoHealth are lesser known approaches in the public health sphere, their holistic and systems-based principles were found to influence the thoughts, values and experiences of public health actors interviewed in this study. This study also highlights the critical role of governance and partnerships in facilitating a holistic approach to health. Further research on governance and partnership models, as well as systems-based organizational working practices, is needed to close the gap between One Health and EcoHealth theory and public health practice.

Keywords:
Public health practice; One Health; EcoHealth; Governance; Sustainability; Cross-sectoral partnerships