The United Nations has issued a warning that the economic cost of a “steady stream” of infectious diseases will continue unless wildlife exploitation ends.
As it stands, zoonotic diseases have cost the world’s economy more than $100 billion since the turn of the century, and the economic toll of the COVID-19 coronavirus is set to top $9 trillion.
The latest report from the United Nations presents strategies to prevent future pandemics, largely based in eliminating the chain of transmission between animals and humans. The report says that ecosystem destruction and animal exploitation are key players in this equation.
Inger Anderson, Executive Director of the United Nations’ Environment Programme (UNEP) has said that “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.”
The study was conducted by the UNEP alongside the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), a nonprofit organisation that works to modernise farming practices in the developing world.
UNEP estimates that as many as 2 million people die each year from zoonotic diseases, largely in the developing world, due to a lack of healthcare infrastructure and education. With the population set to hit 9.7 billion by 2050, the importance of mitigating transmittable diseases between species is clear to be seen.
The coronavirus, which is believed to have started in a species of bat has so far infected more than 10 million people worldwide, killed more than half a million, and eviscerated the global economy.
It’s estimated that around 75% of infectious diseases are able to “jump species” between animals and humans.
Authors of the report are warning that the coronavirus might represent just a small portion of the potential economic disaster awaiting humanity if zoonotic diseases are left unchecked.
Ms Anderson continued to explain that “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.”
Jimmy Smith, director-general at the International Livestock Research Institute says that Africa, after experiencing an Ebola outbreak is well-positioned to deal with the risks of transmissible viruses.
“They are applying, for example, novel risk-based rather than rule-based approaches to disease control, which are best suited to resource-poor settings, and they are joining up human, animal and environment expertise in proactive one health initiatives.”
Authors of the report made a series of recommendations to governments around the globe, including the expansion of scientific research into infectious diseases, investment into education programs and resources for improvements to health care, particularly in the developing world.
Their recommendations include:
- Investing in interdisciplinary approached, including One Health
- Expanding scientific enquiry into zoonotic diseases
- Improving cost-benefit analyses of interventions to include full-cost accounting of societal impact of disease
- Raising awareness of zoonotic diseases
- Strengthening monitoring and regulation practices associated with zoonotic diseases including food systems
- Incentivising sustainable land management practices and developing alternatives for food security and livelihoods that do not rely on the destruction of habitats and biodiversity
- Improving biosecurity and control, identifying key drivers of emerging diseases in animal husbandry and encouraging proven management and zoonotic disease control measures
- Supporting capacities among health stakeholders in all countries
- Operationalising the One Health approach in land-use and sustainable development planning, implementation and monitoring.