In a consensus decision aimed at protecting the world from future infectious diseases crises, a special session of the World Health Assembly agreed to launch a global process to draft and negotiate a convention, agreement or other international instrument under the Constitution of the World Health Organization to strengthen pandemic prevention, preparedness and response. The following statement is from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) Vice President for International Policy, Dr. Susan Lieberman:

“WCS strongly supports the World Health Assembly’s announcement to launch a process to form an international pandemic treaty, and we welcome the inclusion of an equitable and strong science-based approach to pandemic prevention at the source including actions on commercial wildlife markets, forest degradation, and associated biodiversity loss.

“Pandemic preparedness is critical; governments must also agree to significantly reduce the risk of pathogen spillover from animals to humans well before they become local outbreaks, epidemics, or global pandemics.

“We need to change our relationship with nature and our uses of wildlife. We must protect ecosystems with high ecological integrity and function. And we must stop encroaching on nature and reduce points of contact with wildlife to limit consequential pathogen spillovers from wildlife to humans and their livestock. The commercial trade and sale of live wildlife for human consumption – both legal and illegal, particularly birds and mammals – constitute a significant, unacceptable risk. This trade and associated markets bring together domesticated and wild animals with their pathogens, facilitating cross-species transmission and the emergence of novel viruses. We urge the WHO/WHA to address these issues in the new treaty.

“WCS looks forward to providing technical and scientific assistance to governments as they negotiate this new agreement. Treaties/agreements can be negotiated quickly if there is the political will—and the next virus-in-waiting makes it clear that the governments of the world must find a strong, equitable, nature positive-solution to preventing the next pandemic.”