A new report warns that further outbreaks like COVID-19 are likely to emerge unless governments take active measures to prevent other zoonotic diseases from crossing over into the human population.
The report, Preventing the Next Pandemic: Zoonotic diseases and how to break the chain of transmission, is a joint effort by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).
It identifies seven trends driving the increasing emergence of zoonotic diseases, including increased demand for animal protein; a rise in intense and unsustainable farming; the increased use and exploitation of wildlife; and the climate crisis. The report finds that Africa in particular, which has experienced and responded to a number of zoonotic epidemics including most recently, outbreaks of Ebola, could be a source of important solutions to quell future outbreaks.
“The science is clear that if we keep exploiting wildlife and destroying our ecosystems, then we can expect a steady stream of these diseases jumping from animals to humans in the years ahead,” UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen, said in a statement. “Pandemics are devastating to our lives and our economies, and as we have seen over the past months, it is the poorest and the most vulnerable who suffer the most. To prevent future outbreaks, we must become much more deliberate about protecting our natural environment.”
As previously reported by WAN, a “zoonotic disease” or “zoonosis” is a disease that has passed into the human population from an animal source. COVID-19, which has already caused more than half a million deaths around the world, most likely originated in bats. But COVID-19 is only the latest in a growing number of diseases whose spread from animal hosts into human populations has been intensified by anthropogenic pressures.
Ebola, SARS, Zika, HIV/AIDS, West Nile fever, and now, COVID-19, are some of the viruses that U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres mentioned in a statement in response to the new report. “To prevent future outbreaks, countries need to conserve wild habitats, promote sustainable agriculture, strengthen food safety standards, monitor and regulate food markets, invest in technology to identify risks, and curb the illegal trade in wildlife” said Guterres.
Every year, an estimated two million people, mostly in low to middle income countries, die from neglected zoonotic diseases. The same outbreaks can cause severe illness, death, and productivity losses among animal populations in the developing world.
As per the United Nations Environment Program, in the last two decades alone, zoonotic diseases have caused economic losses of more than $100 billion, not including the cost of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is expected to reach $9 trillion over the next few years.
The report identifies a One Health approach, which unites public health, veterinary and environmental expertise, as the optimal method for preventing, as well as responding, to zoonotic disease outbreaks and pandemics.
You can help all animals and our planet by choosing compassion on your plate and in your glass. #GoVeg
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