- Protecting nature is vital to escaper the era of a pandemic: Experts
- Over 5 new disease is emerging in people every year, says IPBES report
- When it comes to pandemics, the focus should be on prevention: Experts
New Delhi: Pandemics represent an existential threat to the health and welfare of people across the planet. According to a report released on Thursday (October 29) by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform for Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), an independent intergovernmental body based in Germany that focuses on biodiversity conservation, based on around 700 scientific studies, has highlighted the link between degrading of nature and increasing pandemic risks. It has revealed that the world is in an ‘era of pandemics’ and future pandemics ill emerge more often, spread more rapidly and do more damage to the world than the ongoing of COVID-19 pandemic. The experts involved in the compilation of the report stress on the need for a transformative change in the global approach to dealing with infectious diseases.
The report has stated that the loss of habitat and the disturbances in the biodiversity caused by climate change, the expansion of agricultural land, deforestation and the wildlife trade are linked to disease emergence. It has reiterated that these unsustainable activities can all expose humans to new viruses that neither the human bodies nor the healthcare systems around the world are equipped to handle. The report says,
The risk of pandemics is increasing rapidly, with more than five new diseases emerging in people every year, any one of which has the potential to become pandemic.
While presenting the findings of the report, Dr Peter Daszak, President of EcoHealth Alliance said in a workshop conducted by IPBES on the report,
There is no great mystery about the cause of the COVID-19 pandemic – or of any modern pandemic. The same human activities that drive climate change and biodiversity loss also drive pandemic risk through their impacts on our environment. Changes in the way we use the land; the expansion and intensification of agriculture; and unsustainable trade, production and consumption disrupt nature and increase contact between wildlife, livestock, pathogens and people. This is the path to pandemics.
COVID-19 which has infected over 4.49 crore people and killed 11.8 lakh people is the sixth global health pandemic since the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918, and although it has its origins in microbes carried by animals, like all pandemics its emergence has been entirely driven by human activities, says the report. It is estimated that another 1.7 million currently ‘undiscovered’ viruses exist in mammals and birds – of which up to 850,000 could have the ability to infect people.
Escaping Future Pandemics Require A Shift In Approach From Reaction To Prevention: Experts
In the report, the experts said that instead of relying on the responses to diseases like public health measures or technological solutions after an outbreak has occurred, there is a need of adopting an approach to prevent the pandemics altogether. The experts estimate that the cost of reducing the risks to prevent pandemics is about 100 times less than the cost of responding to such pandemics. Dr Daszak said that an ounce of prevention is worth 100 pounds of cure. He said,
You put a dollar into prevention, you get $100 return in the future. Why aren’t we doing this on a global scale? We have the increasing ability to prevent pandemics – but the way we are tackling them right now largely ignores that ability. Our approach has effectively stagnated – we still rely on attempts to contain and control diseases after they emerge, through vaccines and therapeutics. We can escape the era of pandemics, but this requires a much greater focus on prevention in addition to reaction. The fact that human activity has been able to so fundamentally change our natural environment need not always be a negative outcome. It also provides convincing proof of our power to drive the change needed to reduce the risk of future pandemics – while simultaneously benefiting conservation and reducing climate change.
The experts stressed that pandemic risk can be significantly lowered by reducing the human activities that drive the loss of biodiversity, by greater conservation of protected areas, and through measures that unsustainable exploitation of high biodiversity regions. This will also reduce the wildlife-livestock-human contact and help prevent the spillover of new diseases called ‘zoonotic diseases’ which jump from animals to humans, said Dr Daszak.
The report has laid out a number of strategies for addressing the pandemic risk. Anna Larigauderie, Executive Secretary of IPBES highlighted the importance of scientific approach while decision making when it comes to policies affecting environment conservation or health. She said,
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of science and expertise to in the policy and decision making. This IPBES report which a peer-reviewed expert publication, representing the perspectives of some of the leading scientists of the world, would offer new insights to the decision-makers about pandemic reduction and options for prevention.
Some of the way in which policy intervention can help in bringing in a transformative change and preventing future pandemics, as recommended by experts in the report are:
- Launching a high-level intergovernmental council on pandemic prevention to provide decision-makers with the best science and evidence on emerging diseases; predict high-risk areas; evaluate the economic impact of potential pandemics and to highlight research gaps. Such a council could also coordinate the design of a global monitoring framework.
- Countries setting mutually-agreed goals or targets within the framework of an international accord or agreement – with clear benefits for people, animals and the environment.
- Institutionalizing the ‘One Health’ approach in national governments to build pandemic preparedness, enhance pandemic prevention programs, and to investigate and control outbreaks across sectors.
- Developing and incorporating pandemic and emerging disease risk health impact assessments in major development and land-use projects, while reforming financial aid for land-use so that benefits and risks to biodiversity and health are recognized and explicitly targeted.
- Ensuring that the economic cost of pandemics is factored into consumption, production, and government policies and budgets.
- Enabling changes to reduce the types of consumption, globalized agricultural expansion and trade that have led to pandemics – this could include taxes or levies on meat consumption, livestock production and other forms of high pandemic-risk activities.
- Reducing zoonotic disease risks in the international wildlife trade through a new intergovernmental ‘health and trade’ partnership; reducing or removing high disease-risk species in the wildlife trade; enhancing law enforcement in all aspects of the illegal wildlife trade and improving community education in disease hotspots about the health risks of wildlife trade.
- Valuing Indigenous Peoples and local communities’ engagement and knowledge in pandemic prevention programs, achieving greater food security, and reducing consumption of wildlife.
- Closing critical knowledge gaps such as those about key risk behaviours, the relative importance of illegal, unregulated, and the legal and regulated wildlife trade in disease risk, and improving understanding of the relationship between ecosystem degradation and restoration, landscape structure and the risk of disease emergence.
John H.Amuasi, Executive Director of the African Research Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases (ARNTD) said during a discussion on the report findings that the ongoing pandemic should be considered as an opportunity to press the reset button in order to change the destructive path that the world is on. He also talked about providing food security to the people by focussing on the indigenous and more sustainable ways of food production. He highlighted the importance of self-sustenance in food production and said that the COVID-19 pandemic has shown how the importation of food items is not reliable.
Dr Carlos Zambrana, Senior Research Scientist of EcoHealth Alliance, another expert involved in the report stressed on the importance of the indigenous communities in understanding the nature and in preventing pandemics. He said that the tribal communities have a longer and deeper relationship with the environment and know much more about nature than others. He said that the indigenous communities have the knowledge about how to interact with the wildlife and how to mitigate the effects of an outbreak.
The experts, via the report, have tried to shed light on the linkages among consumption, livestock farming, health, habitat destruction, climate change and emerging diseases. They have called for immediate actions that are required to be taken for reducing consumption and providing resources to tackle the negative consequences of human actions.
NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. Only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene.