Pandemics, environment and post-COVID-19 | WWF

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Pandemics, environment and post-COVID-19

July 6 was World Zoonoses Day. A zoonosis or "zoonotic disease" is a disease that has spread from an animal source into the human population.

This little-known world day commemorates the work of Louis Pasteur who, on July 6, 1885, successfully administered the first vaccine against rabies, a zoonotic disease. In 2020, World Zoonoses Day was marked by the release of a report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) entitled "Preventing Future Pandemics - Zoonoses and Breaking the Chain of Transmission". The topic is all the more topical as the capital city relocks down to try to break the chain of transmission of COVID-19.

This report was preceded by WWF's "COVID-19: An urgent call to protect humanity and nature", launched in collaboration with WHO and the Convention on Biological Diversity on 17 June 2020. These two reports take stock of the state of scientific knowledge on infectious diseases transmitted from animals to humans, their causes and propose recommendations to prevent future pandemics. 60% of infectious diseases affecting humans are of animal origin. Every year, between three and four new infectious diseases appear, most of them with animal origin. Animal pathogens cross the species barrier and infect humans either directly, through contact with wild animals that are natural carriers, or indirectly through intermediate hosts such as farmed or domestic animals. COVID-19 most likely originates from bats (by the way, we have over 40 species and 80% are endemic); experts have not yet been able to identify the intermediary that facilitated transmission to humans. COVID-19 is only the latest in a growing number of zoonotic diseases affecting humans.

COVID-19 has already reached more than 11 million people and caused more than half a million deaths worldwide. In addition to the human cost, these health crises have serious economic consequences. Over the past two decades, the economic losses caused by zoonotic diseases such as Ebola, SARS, MERS and others are estimated to be more than $100 billion. The cost of COVID-19 is estimated at $9 trillion or three times the GDP of the United Kingdom! These figures do not necessarily take into account the hidden 'costs', such as the increase in environmental crime and the increased risks of insecurity - food and social - especially in remote rural areas. I have already discussed this in previous articles in this section.

Preventing new pandemics or "breaking the chain of [future] transmissions" is therefore more topical than ever. The risks of the spread of zoonotic diseases are increased by human activities on the environment, in particular the destruction of ecosystems to meet the food needs of humanity, through agricultural expansion for example, and the exploitation and consumption of wild species. To prevent future health crises, the sustainable management of renewable natural resources, the development of alternatives for food security and livelihoods that do not rely on the destruction of habitats and biodiversity, and the elimination of illegal and unregulated exploitation of wildlife species and their consumption must imperatively be part of medium- and long-term post-COVID-19 recovery plans.

Some countries, such as those of the European Union, India, China, the Philippines and Zambia, have already understood this and are putting nature at the heart of their recovery plans - a "green" recovery that aims to strengthen economic, social and environmental resilience, to prevent future health crises and to better cope with the impacts of climate change, which is, incidentally, no longer a crisis but a fact to which we will have to adapt.  Because the good health of people, natural environments and animals are one and the same.

We are still in the midst of the crisis, yet we already have to think about the post-crisis period. Of course, we need more schools, hospitals, roads, bridges and other infrastructure. This is essential for development, but what kind of development? It is a pity that our "Marshall Plan" completely ignores these fundamental issues. There is still time to remedy it and why not launch a collective reflection on the Madagascar we want after COVID-19.
 
Opinion of Nanie Ratsifandrihamanana