Planetary Health: Making the Connections

By: Andrea Lavarello

Growing up, the remote Peruvian natural landscapes were my playground. From one-day trips to long expeditions, my family would take me camping in small Andean villages or discover giant mammal fossils in the coastal deserts. I guess it was this deep connection with the natural environment and its creatures that made me choose the veterinary path. After six years of intensely studying animal and medical sciences, I found myself working on a thesis to obtain my diploma. I wanted to study a disease in whales. And there I was: trying to justify my research topic to a group of very traditional professors.

“How will your thesis help to the development of our country?” I discarded some of the main areas of veterinary research and figured I needed to make a link to public health. Terms like “Conservation Medicine”, “One Health”, and “EcoHealth” showed up on my screen and after some reading, the link was evident to me: the marine ecosystem needs whales to maintain a balance in the food chain. Peru needs a healthy ocean to provide to one of the biggest fishing industries in the world and therefore feed people.

People. The word seemed magical. Even today, I remain astonished by the reactions when I pronounce the word. “People! Now it makes sense.” We human beings have created a structure where biodiversity shifts are not urgent matters unless they effect our own well-being.

Planetary health ties up all the loose ends of past definitions of environmental health, and it adds another dimension to the fast-paced changes of the Earth’s natural systems: human health. I see this emerging field as an opportunity to tackle critical environmental issues with an attractive approach for decision and policy makers.

So how do we go from veterinary, to whales, to planetary health? The science is complex, but this system of systems provides the platform to resolve many interlinked issues in our present world. Communication across all the decision makers is key to achieve this. From the ones that advocate, to the ones that care, to the ones that are interested, to the ones that are not well informed. The evidence needs to be gathered and shared, especially among developing professionals in several fields. People like me, students in the field of veterinary medicine as well as human medicine, politics, economics, sociology, arts, engineering or any other profession, will identify the links and be prepared to more efficiently act and collaboratively create solutions. Everything is connected.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Planetary Health Alliance or its members.