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Faces of our CommUNAty - Alessandra Scagliarini

Una Europa's vision is to build the University of the Future. Achieving our goals and delivering our ambitions requires enthusiasm and passion, and countless people are working tirelessly behind the scenes, across our community.

Enter Faces of our commUNAty - a new interview series spotlighting the faces behind Una Europa. Get to know the people that make our community so special, their stories and passions, and help us celebrate the amazing work happening across the alliance and beyond.

Meet Alessandra Scagliarini

Alessandra Scagliarini is a Professor in the Department of Experimental, Diagnostic and Specialty Medicine - DIMES at Alma Mater Studiorum, Università de Bologna and Chair of the Una Europa Self-Steering Committee in One Health.

Alessandra's scientific interests lie in the inter- and transdisciplinary area of One Health to deepen the interactions between humans, animals and ecosystems that underlie the occurrence of health emergencies and the effective management of endemic diseases with high social economic impact.

Let's get to know Alessandra better and find out about her work in the Una Europa Focus Area of One Health!

Welcome Alessandra! Let's get stuck in - what does One Health mean to you, and why is it important?

One Health for me is a collaborative way of working to better manage complex health challenges at local and global level. As a veterinarian, I have always worked in the field of zoonotic diseases so I have always found it natural to work together with colleagues in human health. But this is not One Health, instead this is veterinary public health and this distinction is necessary if the One Health perspective is to be truly implemented.

Too frequently, a One Health approach is declared in research projects that simply deal with diseases that emerge or re-emerge at human-animal interface, but One Health is more than an interdisciplinary collaboration between human and veterinary medicine. In fact, it requires multidisciplinary exchange among many different scientific and technological fields without forgetting the fundamental contribution of the humanities and social sciences.

However, this should not remain a purely academic exercise, aimed at scientific publications or grants. To make the one-health approach effective and useful, it is essential to engage also with non-academic stakeholders to effectively generate the most useful knowledge to prevent, mitigate and resolve complex social emergencies, such as those generated by epidemic and pandemic phenomena. In these contexts, it is crucial to make One Health truly operational since health is indeed a pre-condition and an indicator for achieving the UN 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.

" Our alliance has the potential to put into practice a multi- and transdisciplinary approach, moving from collaboration between research groups from related disciplines to a sharing of a single, unifying theme, planned and implemented at institutional level "

How is One Health part of Una Europa?

Una Europa represents an opportunity to put into practice a cultural approach to science that, in some ways, recalls classical thinking. Una Europa is formed of some of the oldest universities in the world. At the time of their foundation, a transversal approach to the scientific and humanistic disciplines was certainly more popular.

In the One Health focus area, I believe that our alliance has the potential to put into practice a multi- and transdisciplinary approach, moving from collaboration between research groups from related disciplines - which basically stems from the initiatives of individual researchers - to a sharing of a single, unifying theme, planned and implemented at institutional level.

With the parallel contribution of different and apparently distant disciplines (medicine, human and veterinary medicine, epidemiology, ecology, sociology, legal sciences), there is great potential to develop the most innovative teaching, research and knowledge transfer activities capable of promoting a real One Health approach to addressing the most important future health challenges in Europe and worldwide.

With the world learning to live with COVID-19, what lessons have we gained from One Health and the pandemic so far?

Covid-19 is the most recent demonstration of a human crash in the post-vaccine era. To date, we should have well understood that "human" is just one of the animal species on the planet and humanity should be better prepared for epidemics as there will be more in the future.

One Health is a global movement that recognises that the health and welfare of humans, animals and ecosystems are inextricably linked and interdependent. A real One Health approach was required to respond to Covid-19 - to design and implement programs, policies, legislation and research in which multiple sectors were able to better communicate and work together to achieve the best public health outcomes.

However, the pandemic has shown that there are still many disciplinary barriers that have not allowed the best possible sharing of knowledge and management strategies. Furthermore, it is evident how important it is to take into account the social and cultural factors when dealing with disease management.

Covid-19 represents an unfortunate living laboratory to put in place a real One Health approach, which may still have the potential to enable inputs across scientific and non-scientific stakeholders to put in place the best science-based control measures.

" Covid-19 represents an unfortunate living laboratory to put in place a real One Health approach, which may still have the potential to enable inputs across scientific and non-scientific stakeholders to put in place the best science-based control measures "

What are the next steps for One Health at Una Europa?

Despite recognition by national and international institutions, the One Health vision includes few practical examples of its application in the surveillance and management of health emergencies. An integrated surveillance is essential to design the most effective control plans.

The development of innovative tools that can exploit technologies and methodologies for the analysis of massive data (big data), will have an increasing impact. The availability of massive and accessible data (open data) and analytical methodologies will certainly mark the beginning of an era of transformation in research and management of emergencies at the human/ animal/ environment interface in a real One Health perspective.

What advice would you give to young researchers starting out in One Health?

My advice is to keep an open mind in order to better grasp the complexity of the socio-ecological systems in which health-related issues develop. Globalisation, climate change, urbanisation and loss of biodiversity are all main drivers of health challenges that need to be addressed in a systemic way, to build scenarios and identify socially accepted solutions, communication and management strategies.

And finally, a fun question. If you could visit an Una Europa city for just one day, which would you choose and why?

Definitely Helsinki, the reason is that this city was supposed to hold the first UNA-One Health workshop in May 2020, but due to the pandemic it was not possible to meet. We did a lot of online work during the two long years of the pandemic without ever losing contact and in January 2022 many of us, unfortunately not all of us due to the restrictions still in place, met in Italy in Bertinoro (FC). It was great to see each other in person and to discover how productive we can be when we meet and spend time together.

In June 2022, we will finally be able to meet in Helsinki and unlock the hands of a clock that has stopped in February 2020.


So, how can you get involved with Una Europa's work in the Focus Area of One Health? This summer we will host the first Una Europa Summer School in One Health, organised in collaboration with the University of Edinburgh. Keep an eye on our Get Involved page to find out more and apply!

This story was created as part of our One Health focus area, initiated from the 1Europe project.