Climate change is transforming the Arctic at an extraordinary scale and pace. Because all life is intimately connected to its physical surroundings, even small changes in the environment will impact the health of each living thing. These impacts will reverberate through the entire Arctic ecosystem.
The Arctic, with its persistently cold temperatures and largely frozen land and sea, is often pictured as a rugged and enduring landscape with highly resilient inhabitants. However, the Arctic is particularly susceptible to the impacts of climate change. Arctic temperatures have risen at twice the rate of other parts of the world resulting in decreased sea ice, coastal erosion, changes in precipitation magnitude and frequency, permafrost thawing, and altered distribution of animal species. The associated health risks for humans and animals include potential changes in pathogen proliferation, drinking water quality and availability, food quality and availability, and distribution of animal species, among others.
The Arctic’s health is further at risk from environmental contaminants. Contaminants generated outside the Arctic region, such as heavy metals and persistent organic pollutants, are transported by man-made and natural mechanisms to the Arctic where they accumulate and enter the food chain, harming various animal species, including humans who depend on wildlife for food.
Health threats will evolve in type, frequency, severity and complexity as the dynamic impacts of climate change on the Arctic ecosystem unfolds. Efforts to identify and understand the risks will require innovative science, novel tools, and integrated approaches. Moreover, the complex and multifaceted nature of health risks associated with climate change require multidisciplinary and diverse stakeholder collaborations to advance the fundamental understanding of emerging health threats and to develop initiatives that build the resilience of communities and ecosystems.
A One Health approach recognizes the world is interconnected and advances collaboration among diverse stakeholders to attain optimal health for people, domestic animals, wildlife, plants, and the environment.
Over the past decades the concept of One Health has been iteratively advanced by Arctic communities, scientists, and policy makers. Addressing climate change in the Arctic provides an optimal opportunity for advancing a One Health approach at the regional scale. Moving to a regional One Health approach is particularly well-matched to advance the understanding of health threats from the direct and indirect impacts of climate change in the Arctic region. First, there is a strong history of local, national, regional, and international cooperation among diverse stakeholders with a strong history of integrating health sciences and policy development across disciplines, cultures, and borders. Second, networks are in place that can help coordinate different aspects of Arctic One Health, including ecosystem monitoring, and animal and human disease surveillance and reporting. Finally, Arctic policy makers have a track record of being receptive toward, and influenced by, scientifically-generated evidence. This approach will provide an even stronger evidence base for developing decision making tools, frameworks and sound policies.
Along these lines, during the U.S. Chairmanship (2015-17), the Arctic Council will undertake a project to further a One Health approach across the Arctic region as a strategy to enhance resiliency. The goal of this project is to stimulate greater circumpolar support for One Health projects, so as to link and strengthen networks, bolster One Health collaboration and enhance international cooperation. As it is implemented, this multi-phase project will encourage the transition from knowledge to action through the development of decision-making tools. Early project efforts included outreach and consultation to regional stakeholders at international conferences, such as the 16th International Congress on Circumpolar Health in Oulu, Finland (See: http://icch16.oulu.fi/) and the One Health Workshop held by the Arctic Council’s Sustainable Development Working Group’s Arctic Human Health Expert Group in Anchorage, Alaska.
During the next phase in the project, the Arctic Human Health Expert Group (AHHEG) will seek to catalogue and characterize the current status of One Health activities in the Arctic. To do so, they will deploy a survey aiming to improve the understanding of where, how and why individuals and organizations communicate and collaborate using a ‘One Health approach’ (such as the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, One Health Group; http://anthc.org/what-we-do/community-environment-and-health/center-for-climate-and-health/). The information collected in this survey will be used to develop a baseline inventory of self-identified One Health practitioners, initiatives and programs, and to assess the level of interest in enhancing the One Health community of practice as a route to greater Arctic climate resiliency.
To learn more visit the Arctic Council’s Sustainable Development Work Group web-site at http://www.sdwg.org/expert-groups/arctic-human-health-expert-group/, contact Dr. Bruce Ruscio at rusciobaATstate.gov. Additional information on the program was published in the International Journal of Circumpolar Health: B.A. Ruscio, M. Brubaker, J. Glasser, W. Hueston, and T.W. Hennessy. One health – a strategy for resilience in a changing artic. Int J Circumpolar Health 2015, 74: 27913 – http://dx.doi.org/10.3402/ijch.v74.27913
This and other articles were featured in Volume 8 Issue 4 of the One Health Newsletter.
Written by: Bruce Ruscio, Dr.P.H, MPH