‘The overwhelming scientific evidence points to a very positive conclusion. We have the increasing ability to prevent pandemics…’
A report from the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) is warning that the world is set to expect more pandemics that spread more rapidly, cause more economic damage and kill more people than covid-19, unless there is a ‘transformative change in the global approach to dealing with infectious diseases.’
The report by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) addresses the link between the degradation of nature and increasing pandemic risks. Compiled by 22 experts from around the world, the report also quantifies the economic costs of pandemics as well as the costs of preventing future pandemics. It also offers evidence-informed policy options for governments and decision makers.
Covid-19 is at least the sixth global health pandemic since the Great Influenza outbreak of 1918, and the report says that like all pandemics; covid-19 has been driven by human activities. The reports estimates that there are some 1.7 million currently ‘undiscovered’ viruses existing in mammals and birds, of which around half could infect humans.
‘There is no great mystery about the cause of the covid-19 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.’
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.’ It is estimated that the cost of covid-19 to the US alone, could reach $16 trillion by the final quarter of 2021. However, the cost of reducing risks to prevent pandemics could be 100 time less than the cost of responding.
Sounding a note of optimism Daszak added ‘The overwhelming scientific evidence points to a very positive conclusion. 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 disease after they emerge, through vaccines and therapeutics. We can escape the eara of pandemics, but this requires a much greater focus on prevention in addition to reaction.’