As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to take lives and disrupt economies across the world, a new UN report warns further outbreaks will emerge unless governments take active measures to prevent other zoonotic diseases from crossing into the human population.
The report sets out 10 recommendations to prevent future pandemics.
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 Programme (UNEP) and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).
The report launch came on World Zoonoses Day, observed by research institutions and nongovernmental entities on July 6.
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 the most recently, to Ebola outbreaks, 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 to see a steady stream of these diseases jumping from animals to humans in the years ahead,” said UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen.
“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.”
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 — including Ebola, MERS, West Nile fever and Rift Valley fever — whose spread from animal hosts into human populations has been intensified by anthropogenic pressures.
Every year, some two million people, mostly in low and middle-income countries, die from neglected zoonotic diseases.
The same outbreaks can cause severe illness, deaths, and productivity losses among livestock populations in the developing world, a major problem that keeps hundreds of millions of small-scale farmers in severe poverty.
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 10 practical steps that governments can take to prevent future zoonotic outbreaks.
They include investing in interdisciplinary approaches, including One Health; expanding scientific enquiry into zoonotic diseases; improving cost-benefit analyses of interventions to include full-cost accounting of societal impacts of disease and raising awareness of zoonotic diseases.