From 1 February, Wageningen UR, Utrecht University and four teaching hospitals will form the Netherlands Centre for One Health (NCOH). Besides antibiotic resistance and zoonoses, this health consortium will address the issues of sustainable livestock farming and healthy ecosystems.
Illustration Rob de Winter
The initiative for the NCOH comes from Utrecht University, represented by its veterinary and medical faculties, explains Martin Scholten. The director of the Animal Sciences Group at Wageningen UR got involved in the initiative in 2014. ‘In 2015 the medical centres in Rotterdam, Amsterdam and Leiden joined us and the RIVM wants to be involved too. Now you can really call it a national alliance.’
The chief focus of attention will be the antibiotic-resistant bacteria that are coming from hospitals and livestock farms. The medical experts are now going to work with the animal scientists at Utrecht and Wageningen UR to reduce or prevent the development of resistance. ‘We outline the problem, the direction of the solution and the knowledge that is required,’ says Hendrik-Jan Roest. He is a member of the steering committee of the consortium on behalf of Wageningen UR. ‘We want to understand how the system of antibiotic resistance works.’
The NCOH will also target infectious diseases, particularly zoonoses: animal diseases that are a danger to humans. Pathogens are central to this theme too.
The third theme concerns a responsible livestock sector. Livestock Research and several faculties in Utrecht will concentrate on topics including health indicators for animals and the role of housing and management in preventing animal diseases. This is actually a follow-up to the research programme on Conscientious Animal Husbandry at Wageningen UR, says Scholten.
The fourth and last theme is the health of ecosystems, covering the spreading of diseases in the wild. This theme will be led by the Dutch Wildlife Health Centre in Utrecht, with Resource Ecology representing Wageningen. Research will be done here on how diseases in, for example, migrating birds, wild boar, hares, mice and insects spread through the environment. ‘We hope to find principles underlying the spread of these diseases,’ says Roest, ‘so that we can perhaps predict and prevent a zoonosis outbreak.’
A concrete example of this can be seen in Friesland at the moment. Since 2015 the province has been affected by tularemia, a bacterial disease which kills hares fast and causes flu-like symptoms and lymphatic infections in humans. Because this zoonosis was quickly identified by the Utrecht and Wageningen researchers in the zoonosis network, we now know that tens of hares and eight people have been infected by tularemia. ‘This year joint research will be done by the RIVM, the Wildlife Centre, the CVI and Resource Ecology,’ says Roest. ‘We want to identify the problem together.’ The researchers do not want to be taken by surprise by another zoonosis such as Q fever, he says. This example makes clear that the researchers are already working together. ‘There were interconnections but they were often on a personal basis,’ says Scholten. ‘Now we want to collaborate at the institutional level.’ He expects the NCOH to prove a good network for applying for research funding. He has in mind the ministries of Public Health and Economic Affairs, the NWO, the Life Sciences & Health and the Agri&Food top sectors, and the EU.
The NCOH will be launched officially on 4 February in the presence of minister Schippers of Public Health. Hopefully he sees the bigger picture, says Scholten. ‘There is political pressure to score points by reducing antibiotic resistance but we say: that is just one component. We also want to work towards a livestock sector in which antibiotics are no longer indispensable.’