Back in the ’90s, while working in the traffic safety office of New York’s DMV, I apparently committed a Big Faux Pas. At a traffic safety panel discussion moderated by DMV’s second in command, I asked a question.
Traffic safety efforts are generally focused on one facet or another of safe driving: seat belts, drunk driving, drowsy driving, speeding, etc. I had the feeling that such a splintered approach was an ineffective way of doing things. So I asked the panel (through the moderator – Ms. DMV bigwig, remember) if anyone had thought of taking an holistic approach to traffic safety, considering how all these facets might interrelate.
There was a moment of silence, and our moderator appeared flustered by my question. After briefly looking like a deer caught in headlights (another traffic safety issue, by the way), she opened the question up to the panel. One panelist sprang to answer the question and explained that he would love to take such an approach, but the way studies were funded restricted them to focusing on one subject or another.
After the session ended, a colleague who worked at the Institute for Traffic Safety Management and Research (ITSMR) complimented me for a “great question.” I soon learned that Ms. DMV Bigwig didn’t share that sentiment. I encountered her in an office hallway a few days later. Recognizing me from the conference, she asked me whether I got a kick out of playing “stump the panel.” I said something bright like “Huh?” and she repeated her question.
I started to say something about how others had appreciated the question, and I hadn’t really stumped the panel anyway, seeing as a panelist had answered it. She cut me off, saying if she’d known I worked for DMV she never would have let me ask the panel a question. This statement raised some other issues in my mind, but I figured that wasn’t really a good time to raise them.
Apparently times have changed – at least in some fields – and we now have the One Health Initiative, which is “a worldwide strategy for expanding interdisciplinary collaborations and communications in all aspects of health care for humans and animals.” The idea is that since many modern diseases are exchanged between humans and animals, it makes sense to take an holistic approach to health that links various health fields together. As Medical News Today noted:
Zoonotic disease, diseases that strike both humans and animals, are perhaps the clearest inspiration for the One Health Initiative. Of the 35 new diseases that have struck since 1980, most are zoonotic diseases, including Ebola virus, monkey pox, West Nile virus, SARS, and HIV/AIDS. HIV/AIDS has killed an estimated 25 million people since it was first identified in 1981 and 40 million people worldwide are living with HIV/AIDS.
Their article goes on to quote Jay H Glasser, PhD, MS, FFPH,FRIPH, a professor at the University of Texas School of Public Health and president of the Medicine and Public Health Initiative. Said Dr. Glasser:
One Health is both a vision and a practicality that is so necessary and needed. We live in an age of an unprecedented explosion of health care knowledge, and health promotion and practice interventions. Yet it is also a time of equally enormous gaps in delivery and challenges to the human and animal health. In this age of our interconnected world where both local and global conditions interact with one another, where we are forcefully reminded that we are the custodians of our health and environment, One Health is indeed the embodiment of an “idea whose time has come.” One Health is more than a concept; it is apositive plan, and an organization to provide leadership and coordinated action to promote health – human, and animal – in today’s context where environmental and ecological sustainability is threatened.
This is just one example of a dawning awareness of the shortcomings of specialization and the need to consider an holistic approach to problems we face. Who knows? Maybe some day such an approach will even by tried in traffic safety.