Instead of trying to stop a pandemic and control disease once it occurs, it can be prevented by better protecting nature, researchers from the intergovernmental IPBES team say in a report released on Thursday. Changing the approach to biodiversity will reduce the scale of victims and lower economic costs, they say.
The pandemic and biodiversity report was released on Thursday by IPBES (Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services), the Intergovernmental Science and Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. The document is a common position of specialists in various fields, incl. epidemiology, zoology, public health, disease ecology, comparative pathology or mathematical modelling. It is based on over 600 peer-reviewed scientific papers.
The authors of the report remind that the majority (70%) of new diseases (e.g. Ebola, Zika, Nipah) and almost all known pandemics (e.g. influenza, HIV / AIDS, COVID-19) are zoonoses, i.e. diseases caused by microorganisms of animal origin. These microbes spread through contacts between wild animals, farm animals and humans. COVID-19 is at least the sixth global pandemic since the Spanish flu in 1918.
It is estimated that there are currently approximately 1.7 million undiscovered viruses in mammals and birds. Of these, 540 thousand. - 850 thousand could potentially be contagious to humans. The key reservoirs of pathogens with pandemic potential are mammals (especially bats, rodents, primates), some birds (especially aquatic), as well as farm animals (e.g. pigs, camels, poultry). Among the threats regarding the occurrence of future pandemics, experts also mention the trade in wild animals and their consumption.
Among the causes of the pandemic, scientists pointed to human-induced ecological disruptions and unsustainable consumption. It goes, among others changes in land use, the expansion and intensification of agriculture, wildlife trade. Scientists do not exclude an increase in the risk of further pandemics, which may be related to the movement of humans and wild animals, and the spread of pathogens.
An important factor in the development of a pandemic at the global level is changes in land use - deforestation, the settlement of people in the habitats of primaeval wild animals, an increase in plant and animal production, and urbanization. They are already responsible for over 30% of new diseases reported since 1960.
The authors of the study make a reservation that the actual impact of COVID-19 on the global economy can only be accurately assessed in the future. However, its global cost by July 2020 has been estimated at $ 8-16 trillion, and by the fourth quarter of 2021, it could be as much as $ 16 trillion in the US alone (assuming vaccines are effective in mastering it by then).
When writing about countermeasures, IPBES experts note that current pandemic preparedness strategies are based on the search for vaccines and drug development. They are aimed at controlling diseases that have already appeared. There is, however, no pre-emptive approach and no reduction of pandemic risk factors.
They indicate that the cost of preventing pandemics is a hundred times lower than the cost of responding. According to the report, the risk of a pandemic can be significantly reduced by reducing activities contributing to the loss of biodiversity. In practice, this means greater protection of protected areas, limiting unsustainable exploitation of valuable regions, or potential taxes or levies on meat consumption, livestock production and other high-risk activities.
The authors of the study postulate various support mechanisms, such as the establishment of a high-level intergovernmental council for pandemic prevention. Among the economic mechanisms, they proposed to integrate the economic cost of the pandemic into consumption, production, and government policies and budgets, and to develop a post-COVID-19 green economic recovery plan as a safeguard against future epidemics.
“The penetration of pathogens into the human population is facilitated today thanks to the progressive destruction and modification of ecosystems. In addition, industrial livestock farming has to become a thing of the past. The natural environment is a fairly good vaccine that will protect us from possibly millions of + undiscovered + viruses in wild animals. By destroying biodiversity, we are exposing ourselves to equally dangerous scenarios, similar to the one we experience today. I am full of anxiety because it is hard for me to believe that we will undertake the work of planet restitution quickly and effectively ”- this is how the content of the report comments Dr Piotr Skubała, an ecologist from the University of Silesia in Katowice, quoted in the press release sent to PAP. (PAP)