Invest In Nature To Stop The Next Pandemic

A new study from Harvard University and international experts indicates that investments in nature are required to prevent the next pandemic. 

As the globe battles to control COVID-19, a group of prominent scientific experts from the United States, Latin America, Africa, and South Asia published a study today laying out the scientific underpinnings for avoiding the next pandemic by limiting pathogen spillover from animals to humans. 

  • The International Scientific Task Force to Prevent Pandemics at the Source argues that investments in outbreak control, such as diagnostic tests, medicines, and vaccinations, are important but insufficient in addressing pandemic risk. 

  • These results come at a time when COVID-19 vaccination coverage in many low- and middle-income countries is still insufficient, and vaccine coverage in richer countries is far from reaching the levels required to control the Delta variation. 

"To manage COVID-19, we've already spent more than $6 trillion on what may turn out to be the most expensive band aids ever bought." 

        ~ Dr. Aaron Bernstein, interim director of the Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health 

  • We must take steps to prevent pandemics from spreading by preventing disease transmission from animals to people. 

  • We can also aid in the stabilization of the planet's climate and the revitalization of its biosphere, both of which are critical to our health and economic well-being.

Climate change is also reducing ecosystems and forcing animals on land and water to migrate to new locations, allowing diseases to infect new hosts. 

  • Since 1940, agriculture has been linked to more than half of all zoonotic infectious illnesses that have infected humans. 

  • With the world's population growing and food insecurity on the rise as a result of the pandemic, investments in sustainable agriculture and crop and food waste prevention are critical to reducing biodiversity losses, conserving water resources, and preventing further land use change while promoting food security and economic well-being. 

The task force's main proposal is to use investments in healthcare system improvement and One Health to promote conservation, animal and human health, and spillover prevention at the same time. 

  • A successful example of this integrated approach may be seen in Borneo, where a decade of effort resulted in a 70% reduction in deforestation, access to health care for over 28,400 patients, and significant reductions in illnesses such as malaria, TB, and common pediatric disorders. 

Additional funding and research suggestions include: 

  • Priorities for investment: 

    • Conserve tropical forests, including those that are reasonably intact and those that have been fragmented. 

    • Improve biosecurity for livestock and farmed wild animals, particularly when animal husbandry takes place near large or quickly growing human populations. 

    • Establish an intergovernmental cooperation with allied agencies such as the FAO, WHO, OIE, UNEP, and Wildlife Enforcement Networks to combat the danger of wild animals spreading disease to livestock and humans. 

    • Leverage investments to improve healthcare systems and One Health platforms in low- and middle-income countries to promote conservation, animal and human health, and spillover prevention. 

Prioritize research to determine which measures, such as those focusing on forest protection, wildlife hunting and trade, and agricultural biosecurity, are most successful in preventing spillovers. 

  • Assess the economic, ecological, long-term viability, and social welfare effects of spillover-reduction measures. 

  • In economic studies, include a cost-benefit analysis that includes the entire range of advantages that may result from spillover avoidance

  • Improve our knowledge of where pandemics are most likely to occur, including evaluations of pandemic drivers such as government, travel, and population density. 

  • Continue viral discoveries in wildlife to determine the range of possible diseases and enhance genotype-phenotype relationships that may be used to evaluate spillover risk and severity. 

Harvard Chan C-CHANGE and the Harvard Global Health Institute convened the task group (HGHI). 

The results of their first report will be converted into international policy recommendations in time for the G20 meeting in October and the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) in November.

You may also want to read more analysis about the COVID-19 Pandemic here.