Preventing pandemics: new report on zoonotics to be released in July
In the last century, a combination of population growth and reduction in ecosystems and biodiversity has created unprecedented opportunities for zoonotic diseases – where pathogens pass between animals and people. In 2016, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) flagged a worldwide increase in zoonotic epidemics.
This year, with the outbreak of COVID-19 having affected every country in the world, UNEP and researchers from the International Livestock Research Institute have conducted a scientific assessment to consolidate knowledge and identify areas of policy focus. Titled Preventing the Next Pandemic: zoonotic diseases and how to break the chain of transmission, the assessment is to be published in July.
In advance of World Environment Day (5 June), UNEP Chief of Wildlife, Doreen Robinson and Professor of Veterinary Infectious Diseases at the University of Liverpool, Eric Fèvre discuss how we might prevent and manage zoonotic diseases in the future.
What is the connection between zoonotic diseases and biodiversity?
Robinson: The relationship between the environment and the emergence and spread of disease is very complex. In the last century, our environment has changed tremendously: population growth and associated altering of land for settlements, agriculture, logging, extractive industries or other uses has led to habitat and biodiversity loss. This has created many opportunities for pathogens to pass between animals and people as the natural buffers between humans and animals have disappeared. We also know that higher levels of native biodiversity has been associated with reduced transmission of some zoonotic diseases.
Changes in temperature, humidity and seasonality directly affect the survival of microbes in the environment. As we alter habitats, we change these conditions. Evidence suggests that disease epidemics will become more frequent, as the climate continues to change. We also cannot forget that biological diversity is one of humanity’s greatest sources of medicine and treatments. By stopping biodiversity loss and investing in a planetary health, we safeguard human health