Escaping the ‘Era of Pandemics’: experts warn worse crises to come; offer options to reduce risk

By External Source
Oct 29 2020 (IPS-Partners)

Future pandemics will emerge more often, spread more rapidly, do
more damage to the world economy and kill more people than COVID-19
unless there is a transformative change in the global approach to
dealing with infectious diseases, warns a major new report on
biodiversity and pandemics by 22 leading experts from around the
world.

Convened by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on
Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) for an urgent virtual
workshop about the links between degradation of nature and
increasing pandemic risks, the experts agree that escaping the era
of pandemics is possible, but that this will require a seismic
shift in approach from reaction to prevention. Credit: IPBES

Convened by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on
Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) for an urgent virtual
workshop about the links between degradation of nature and
increasing pandemic risks, the experts agree that escaping the era
of pandemics is possible, but that this will require a seismic
shift in approach from reaction to prevention.

COVID-19 is at least the sixth global health pandemic since the
Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918, and although it has its origins
in microbes carried by animals, like all pandemics its emergence
has been entirely driven by human activities, says the report
released on Thursday. It is estimated that another 1.7 million
currently ‘undiscovered’ viruses exist in mammals and birds –
of which up to 850,000 could have the ability to infect people.

“There is no great mystery about the cause of the COVID-19
pandemic – or of any modern pandemic”, said Dr. Peter Daszak,
President of EcoHealth Alliance and Chair of the IPBES workshop.
“The same human activities that drive climate change and
biodiversity loss also drive pandemic risk through their impacts on
our environment. Changes in the way we use land; the expansion and
intensification of agriculture; and unsustainable trade, production
and consumption disrupt nature and increase contact between
wildlife, livestock, pathogens and people. This is the path to
pandemics.”

Pandemic risk can be significantly lowered by reducing the human
activities that drive the loss of biodiversity, by greater
conservation of protected areas, and through measures that reduce
unsustainable exploitation of high biodiversity regions. This will
reduce wildlife-livestock-human contact and help prevent the
spillover of new diseases, says the report.

“The overwhelming scientific evidence points to a very
positive conclusion,” said Dr. Daszak. “We have the increasing
ability to prevent pandemics – but the way we are tackling them
right now largely ignores that ability. Our approach has
effectively stagnated – we still rely on attempts to contain and
control diseases after they emerge, through vaccines and
therapeutics. We can escape the era of pandemics, but this requires
a much greater focus on prevention in addition to reaction.”

“The fact that human activity has been able to so
fundamentally change our natural environment need not always be a
negative outcome. It also provides convincing proof of our power to
drive the change needed to reduce the risk of future pandemics –
while simultaneously benefiting conservation and reducing climate
change.”

The report says that relying on responses to diseases after
their emergence, such as public health measures and technological
solutions, in particular the rapid design and distribution of new
vaccines and therapeutics, is a “slow and uncertain path”,
underscoring both the widespread human suffering and the tens of
billions of dollars in annual economic damage to the global economy
of reacting to pandemics.

Pointing to the likely cost of COVID-19 of $8-16 trillion
globally by July 2020, it is further estimated that costs in the
United States alone may reach as high as $16 trillion by the 4th
quarter of 2021. The experts estimate the cost of reducing risks to
prevent pandemics to be 100 times less than the cost of responding
to such pandemics, “providing strong economic incentives for
transformative change.”

The report also offers a number of policy options that would
help to reduce and address pandemic risk. Among these are:

• Launching a high-level intergovernmental
council on pandemic prevention to provide decision-makers with the
best science and evidence on emerging diseases; predict high-risk
areas; evaluate the economic impact of potential pandemics and to
highlight research gaps. Such a council could also coordinate the
design of a global monitoring framework.
• Countries setting mutually-agreed goals or targets within the
framework of an international accord or agreement – with clear
benefits for people, animals and the environment.
• Institutionalizing the ‘One Health’ approach in national
governments to build pandemic preparedness, enhance pandemic
prevention programs, and to investigate and control outbreaks
across sectors.
• Developing and incorporating pandemic and emerging disease risk
health impact assessments in major development and land-use
projects, while reforming financial aid for land-use so that
benefits and risks to biodiversity and health are recognized and
explicitly targeted.
• Ensuring that the economic cost of pandemics is factored into
consumption, production, and government policies and budgets.
• Enabling changes to reduce the types of consumption, globalized
agricultural expansion and trade that have led to pandemics –
this could include taxes or levies on meat consumption, livestock
production and other forms of high pandemic-risk activities.
• Reducing zoonotic disease risks in the international wildlife
trade through a new intergovernmental ‘health and trade’
partnership; reducing or removing high disease-risk species in the
wildlife trade; enhancing law enforcement in all aspects of the
illegal wildlife trade and improving community education in disease
hotspots about the health risks of wildlife trade.
• Valuing Indigenous Peoples and local communities’ engagement
and knowledge in pandemic prevention programs, achieving greater
food security, and reducing consumption of wildlife.
• Closing critical knowledge gaps such as those about key risk
behaviors, the relative importance of illegal, unregulated, and the
legal and regulated wildlife trade in disease risk, and improving
understanding of the relationship between ecosystem degradation and
restoration, landscape structure and the risk of disease
emergence.

Speaking about the workshop report, Dr. Anne Larigauderie,
Executive Secretary of IPBES said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has
highlighted the importance of science and expertise to inform
policy and decision-making. Although it is not one of the typical
IPBES intergovernmental assessments reports, this is an
extraordinary peer-reviewed expert publication, representing the
perspectives of some of the world’s leading scientists, with the
most up-to-date evidence and produced under significant time
constraints. We congratulate Dr. Daszak and the other authors of
this workshop report and thank them for this vital contribution to
our understanding of the emergence of pandemics and options for
controlling and preventing future outbreaks. This will inform a
number of IPBES assessments already underway, in addition to
offering decision-makers new insights into pandemic risk reduction
and options for prevention.”

Source: IPBES

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Escaping the ‘Era of Pandemics’: experts warn worse crises to
come; offer options to reduce risk
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Escaping the ‘Era of Pandemics’: experts warn worse crises
to come; offer options to reduce risk