chevron-down Created with Sketch Beta.

International Law News

International Law News, Summer 2021

One World, One Health

Martha Smith-Blackmore and Lenore Montanaro


  • The COVID-19 global pandemic reveals the importance of recognizing that people, animals, and the environment are interconnected.
  • It also reaffirms the concept of “One Health” that 'humans, animals, and the environment are inextricably linked.'
  • The goal of "One Health" is to attain a 'collaborative effort of multiple disciplines working locally, nationally, and globally to attain optimal health for people, animals, and the environment.'
One World, One Health
thianchai sitthikongsak via Getty Images

Jump to:

As of this writing, the World Health Organization (WHO) has documented 185,038,806 confirmed cases and 4,006,882 deaths from the COVID-19 disease, shared between 223 countries, areas, and territories. The disease, caused by a new coronavirus called SARS-CoV-2, is believed to have emerged during the latter half of 2019, “following a report of a cluster of cases of ‘viral pneumonia’ in Wuhan, People’s Republic of China.”

Approximately only one month after COVID-19 was first identified, the WHO declared the coronavirus a “global health emergency.” There are numerous reasons why the COVID-19 disease spread within a short period of time, including, but not limited to: transmission occurred via asymptomatic individuals, perhaps because the incubation period for the virus is longer than the serial interval for the virus (enabling transmission by presymptomatic or asymptomatic carriers); the virus is believed to have been transmitted via fomites and more importantly by aerosols with a long “hang time”; and transmission spread due to the interconnectedness of people and animals in a global ecology.

The COVID-19 global pandemic reveals the importance of recognizing that people, animals, and the environment are interconnected. It also reaffirms the concept of “One Health” which is a call for all individuals, communities, organizations, professions, governments, and nations to work together for the betterment of people, animals, and the environment.

What is One Health?

The American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA) understands One Health as two related ideas:

  1. humans, animals, and the environment are “inextricably linked” and 
  2. the goal within the concept of One Health is to attain a “collaborative effort of multiple disciplines working locally, nationally, and globally to attain optimal health for people, animals, and the environment.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also recognizes the importance of One Health, noting that “human populations are growing and expanding into new geographic areas” and, as such, “more people live in close contact with wild and domestic animals, both livestock and pets.” The CDC has determined that close contact can cause zoonotic disease. The U.S. Department of Agriculture notes that “[d]uring the last [three] decades, approximately 75 percent of emerging infectious diseases among humans have been zoonotic diseases, which can be transmitted from animals to people.”

Additionally, the CDC has identified that the “earth has experienced changes in climate and land use, such as deforestation and intensive farming practices.” This “disruption” can cause “new opportunities for diseases to pass to animals” and/or to humans. Moreover, the “movement of people, animals, and animal products” occurs via “international travel and trade[].” This means that “diseases can spread quickly across borders and around the globe.” Some of these diseases began as viruses, such as how COVID-19 is the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus.

In addition to physical health and safety, the inclusion of mental health in the One Health framework is crucial for the benefit of people, animals, and the environment. Mental health is important because, among other reasons, there are “significant correlations between animal abuse, child abuse and neglect, domestic violence, elder abuse[,] and other forms of violence.” In other words, many mental health conditions endured by people impact people, animals, and the environment because of the connection that people have to animals.

Attorneys Should Work Towards Advancing “One Health”

Subject to an attorney’s duties to the client, and the attorney’s requirement to abide by all Rules of Professional Conduct within the attorney’s jurisdiction(s) of practice, an attorney can and does have a substantial impact in advancing or hindering the objectives of One Health. Just as veterinarians “play an integral role in One Health because animals both impact and are impacted by people and the environment[,]” attorneys, too, play an important role in One Health because an attorney’s client, or clients, are affected by laws and policies that impact people, animals, and the environment.

Attorneys in nearly all sectors of law, as well as those not practicing law, such as those working within advocacy, policy, or within other areas, generally have the knowledge attained during law school to critically analyze and evaluate issues (i.e., “issue spotting”), which can, in turn, lead to creative or novel solutions to complex problems. This means that generally, an attorney may explain a matter to a client to the extent reasonably necessary to permit the client to make informed decisions, which may include decisions that have an impact upon people, animals, and/or the environment. Subject to an attorney’s legal and/or ethical requirements, and the specific facts of a case, generally the attorney may properly inform the client, so that the client may direct the legal services with full situational awareness necessary to make an informed decision, which could impact global health. Generally, an attorney may use the attorney’s unique skill set to foster initiatives or objectives to “help to predict, prevent, and control zoonotic disease outbreaks that threaten human and animal health, and […] address other threats that affect humans, animals, and our shared environment.”

On the policy front, attorneys are critical to identifying areas where laws may be enacted that are consistent with the One Health approach to help minimize the risk of transmission of zoonotic disease and protect public health, animals, and the environment. In fact, in February 2021, the American Bar Association House of Delegates adopted a resolution sponsored by the International Law Section and co-sponsored by the Tort Trial and Insurance Practice Section that does just that—Urging “all nations to negotiate an international convention for the protection of animals that establishes standards for the proper care and treatment of all animals to protect public health, the environment, and animal wellbeing.”


People continue to learn about and strive toward the One Health approach. There are significant steps that all people can take to prevent disease and injury and make the world a better place for all people and animals. From keeping companion animals safe and healthy to enjoying wildlife from a distance, people can be kinder to other people and to animals.

Attorneys within nearly all areas of law can use their particular skills to “have the biggest impact on improving health for both people and animals.” Moreover, attorneys can work with veterinarians to capture their unique “expertise in toxicology, epidemiology, and ecology […] to understand, control, prevent, diagnose, treat environment-associated diseases that affect both people and animals.”

*Authors’ Note: this writing and any of its content therein are not intended to be, nor should it or they be, construed as legal, veterinary, medical, or other professional advice.