We Are Not Part of Nature; We Are Nature: An African View on One Health

We Are Not Part of Nature; We Are Nature: An African View on One Health

Ike Valentine Iyioke (University of Michigan – Flint, USA)
Copyright: © 2019 |Pages: 26
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-6304-4.ch002


This chapter explores holism as it pertains to health in African thought. Specifically, it uses the philosophical notion of personhood to illustrate holism within the biomedical research context. In African philosophy, nature is an organic whole, and the creation and sustenance of ecological balance or interdependence between human and non-humans, the visible and the invisible are most desired. The individual is anchored in a mesh of relationships within the family, village, environment, all of whom are primordial sources of that person's physical, psychic, and spiritual existence and wellbeing. It is a fallacy, indeed absurd to think that humans can exist or act as though they are independent of the environment they live in while continually sensing it via sight, touch, hearing, smell, and taste. In a sense, humans are not just a part of nature; they are nature. It is a holistic perspective, as opposed to anthropocentrism. The continued neglect of this philosophical perspective in favor exclusively of anthropocentrism or individualism is the cause of much human crisis.
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This chapter explores the notion of holism1 in African thought as it relates to One Health. Specifically, the African perception of a person (e.g., a research participant) is used to illustrate the understanding of holism within the context of biomedical research or healthcare. Given that African philosophical considerations for the individual person are always in relation to his/her family, community and environment; it follows that individual persons ought to be understood holistically; not as detached entities.

Scant support for aspects of holism has been long in coming, including from philosopher-ecologist Aldo Leopold and environmental naturalist John Muir. Also, more contemporary support for the unanimity of environmental and human health has been noted by the likes of Potter (1971; 1988; 1990; 1995; 1998 and 1999) and Pierce and Jameton (2004). Such support gained strength in a 2014 WHO report. In Guidance Framework for Testing of Genetically Modified Mosquitoes (GMM),2 the WHO doubles down and draws a parallel between environmental and human health.

These strands of support shall be ploughed in for illustration as they merely echo the centuries old African philosophical perspective which holds that every earthly element possesses respective intrinsic value while being intimately connected to everything else in ranked order of being. For instance, the GMM protocol seems to make an about face by breaking with Euro-American liberal tradition as if to recognize the African philosophical disposition to oneness; wholistic healing included.

By comparison, modern Euro-American realization of One Health is in its infancy. For instance, only recently, Craddock (2015) acknowledged it as a well-timed term that is gaining traction to capture and address the complex connection between human, animal and ecological health. Earlier, she had argued that “There is potentially much to be gained by incorporating the interrelations of animal and human ecosystems, as well as the expertise of veterinary, medical, and public health practitioners” (Craddock, 2014, p. 36). Likewise, the intricate patterns of global change and its connection with human, domestic and wildlife and their social and ecological environment, have forced a re-evaluation of integrated approaches to human and animal health and their respective social and environmental implication (Zinsstag, Schelling, Waltner-Toews & Tanner, 2011). With specific reference to challenges posed in recent decades by pandemic infectious diseases such as A(H1N1), HIV/AIDS, SARS and Influenza, need for new approaches and concepts have been urged “in order to understand how biological emergencies and health alerts deploy new scales of action” (Tirado, F., Gomez, A., & Rocamora, V., 2015).

In terms of diseases that are zoonoses, One Health approach creates a confluence for physicians and veterinarians to unify their efforts (Dantas-Torres, F., Chomel, B., & Otranto, D., 2012). An assortment of disease-producing microorganisms such as viruses, bacteria, protozoa and helminths, have life cycles that require passage through the vertebrate host. “Major tick-borne infections of humans are typically an infringement of a circulation between wildlife animal reservoirs and tick vectors” (Baneth, 2014, p. 591). Hence,

Key Terms in this Chapter

GMM: Genetically modified mosquitoes, also called genetically engineered mosquitoes, transgenic mosquitoes, or living modified mosquitoes – mosquitoes that have heritable traits derived through use of recombinant DNA technology, which alter the strain, line, or colony in a manner usually intended to result in reduction of the transmission of mosquito-borne human diseases.

Holism: The interconnectivity and interdependence of all things.

One Health: One Health is the collaborative effort of multiple disciplines—working locally, nationally, and globally—to attain optimal health for people, animals and the environment.

Global North: Also known as the industrialized world, Western, or Euro-American – refers to the 57 countries with high human development that have a Human Development Index above .8. Most, but not all, of these countries are in the Northern Hemisphere.

All-in-One (One-in-All): A term coined to depict the suffusion and inseparability of the individual into his/her community and environment.

Ecosystem: A biological system composed of a community of organisms and the nonliving environment with which it interacts [same for Environment and Ecology].

BEC: Bio-eco-communalism just like one-in-all, refers to the inseparability of the individual within his/her community and environment.

Global South: The industrializing world or The Global South refers to the countries of the rest of the world, most of which are in the Southern Hemisphere. Most of the Global South is in South and Central America, Africa, and Asia.

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