The United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) in partnership with the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and others have identified measures countries can put in place to prevent future pandemics.
This was disclosed in a recent report titled, preventing the next pandemic: Zoonotic diseases and how to break the chain of transmission, published Monday.
The report, a scientific assessment from UNEP and ILRI found that unless countries take dramatic steps to curb zoonotic contagions, global outbreaks like COVID-19 will become more prevalent.
The report also describes how 60 per cent of the 1,400 microbes known to infect humans originated in animals, a process described as zoonoses.
It says zoonotic diseases also known as zoonoses are illnesses caused by pathogens that spread from animals to people and from people to animals.
“Examples of zoonoses include HIV-AIDS, Ebola, Lyme disease, malaria, rabies and West Nile fever, in addition to the disease caused by the novel coronavirus 2019, COVID-19,” the report reads.
The report highlights that these are some of the highest-profile diseases the world has witnessed in several decades.
It says while these diseases emerged in different parts of the world, “they have one thing in common which scientists call zoonotic diseases— infections that jump between animals and humans, some of which leave illness and death in their wake.”
It notes that while emerging contagions like COVID-19 dominate headlines, neglected zoonotic diseases kill at least two million people every year, mostly in developing countries. “That is more than four times the current reported death toll of COVID-19.”
The lead author of the report, Delia Grace, who is a veterinary epidemiologist at ILRI and a professor of food safety at the UK’s Natural Resources Institute said to prevent future outbreaks, countries need a coordinated, science-backed response to emerging zoonotic diseases.
“Viruses don’t need a passport. You cannot tackle these issues on a nation-by-nation basis. We must integrate our responses for human health, animal health, and ecosystem health to be effective,” she said.
The head of scientific assessments at UNEP, Maarten Kappelle, also said “People look back to the influenza pandemic of 1918–1919 and think that such disease outbreaks only happen once in a century, but that’s no longer true. If we don’t restore the balance between the natural world and the human one, these outbreaks will become increasingly prevalent.”
The report said the cost of zoonotic epidemics is steep, adding that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has predicted that COVID-19 alone will cause the global economy to contract by 3 per cent this year, wiping out $9 trillion in productivity through 2021.
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“But even in the two decades before the pandemic, the World Bank estimated that zoonotic diseases had direct costs of more than $100 billion,” the report reads.
The UNEP and ILRI urge governments to embrace an inter-sectoral and interdisciplinary approach called One Health — an approach which unites medical, veterinary and environmental expertise, and helps governments, businesses and civil society achieve enduring health for all.
The report calls on states not only to bolster their animal and human healthcare systems, but to also address factors such as environmental degradation and increased demand for meat – that make it easier for diseases to jump species.
Specifically, it encourages states to promote sustainable agriculture, strengthen food safety standards, monitor and help improve traditional food markets, invest in technology to track outbreaks, and provide new job opportunities for people who trade in wildlife.
Meanwhile, UNEP’s chief of wildlife, Doreen Robinson, said it’s also important for governments to better understand how zoonotic diseases work, as it could help the world avoid another pandemic on the scale of COVID-19.
“Getting ahead of the game and preventing the type of global shutdown we’ve seen—that’s what investing in zoonotic research will get you,” she said. “Outbreaks will happen. Pathogenic organisms will jump from animals to humans, and back to animals again. The question is: How far will they jump and what impact will they have?”
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