Report presents solid scientific basis for taking action to stop the next pandemic

As the world struggles to contain COVID-19, a group of leading scientific experts from the United States, Latin America, Africa and South Asia today released a report outlining the scientific basis to take action to stop the next pandemic by preventing the overflow of pathogens from animals to humans.

The report provides recommendations for research and actions to prevent new pandemics that have been largely absent from high-level discussions on prevention, including a new call to integrate conservation actions with strengthening health systems in the world. global scale.

The report of the International Scientific Working Group to Prevent Pandemics at Source shows that investments in epidemic control, such as diagnostic tests, drugs and vaccines, are essential but insufficient to address the risk of a pandemic. These findings come as the availability of COVID-19 vaccines in many low- and middle-income countries remains insufficient; and even in the richest countries, immunization coverage is far from reaching the levels needed to control the Delta variant.

“To deal with COVID-19, we’ve already spent over $ 6 trillion on what could turn out to be the most expensive bandages ever purchased, and no matter how much we spend on vaccines, they will never be able to fully immunize us. against future pandemics, “said Dr Aaron Bernstein, Acting Director of the Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment at Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health and Head of the Scientific Task Force for Preventing Pandemics at the Source.

We must take action to prevent the outbreak of pandemics by stopping the spread of disease from animals to humans. When we do, we can also help stabilize the planet’s climate and revitalize its biosphere, each of which is essential to our health and economic well-being. “

Dr Aaron Bernstein, Acting Director, Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment, Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health

Previous research by Dr. Bernstein and colleagues found that the costs of preventing the next pandemic; reducing deforestation and regulating the wildlife trade; represent only $ 22 billion per year, or 2% of the economic and mortality costs associated with the response to COVID-19.

The working group found that the overflow of possible pandemic pathogens occurs from livestock operations; hunting and trade in wild animals; land use change; and the destruction of tropical forests in particular; expansion of agricultural land, especially near human settlements; and rapid and unplanned urbanization. Climate change is also reducing habitats and causing land and sea animals to move to new places, creating opportunities for pathogens to enter new hosts.

Agriculture is associated with over 50% of zoonotic infectious diseases that have appeared in humans since 1940. With the growth of the human population and increased food insecurity due to the pandemic, investments in the sustainable agriculture and in the prevention of crops and food waste are essential for reducing biodiversity losses, conserving water resources and preventing further changes in land use while promoting food security and economic well-being.

A key recommendation from the task force calls for leveraging investments in health system strengthening and One Health to jointly advance conservation, animal and human health, and spillover prevention.

A successful example of this integrated model comes from Borneo, where a decade of work has reduced deforestation by 70% and provided access to health care to more than 28,400 patients and a substantial reduction in diseases like malaria. , tuberculosis and common childhood illnesses.

Additional recommendations for investment and research include:

Investment priorities:

  • Conserve tropical forests, especially in relatively intact forests as well as those that have been fragmented.
  • Improve biosecurity for livestock and farmed wild animals, especially when farming takes place near large or rapidly expanding human populations.
  • Establish an intergovernmental partnership to address the risk of spreading wild animals to livestock and people from aligned organizations such as FAO, WHO, OIE, UNEP and law enforcement networks.
  • In low- and middle-income countries, leverage investments to strengthen health systems and One Health platforms to jointly advance conservation, animal and human health, and spillover prevention.

Research priorities:

  • Establish which interventions, including those focused on forest conservation, wildlife hunting and trade, and biosecurity around farms, are most effective in preventing fallout.
  • Evaluate the economic, ecological, long-term and social well-being impacts of interventions aimed at reducing spillovers. Include the cost-benefit analysis that takes into account the full range of benefits that may arise from the prevention of spillovers in the economic analyzes.
  • Refine our understanding of where pandemics are likely to emerge, including assessments of pandemic factors such as governance, displacement and population density.
  • Pursue viral discovery in wildlife to determine the extent of potential pathogens and improve genotype-phenotype associations that may allow assessments of spillover risk and virulence.

The working group was convened by Harvard Chan C-CHANGE and the Harvard Global Health Institute (HGHI). The findings set out in their inaugural report will be translated into international policy recommendations to inform the G20 summit in October and the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) in November.


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