An essay published today in the journal Nature highlights four leading causes of pathogen spillover and calls on global policymakers to take urgent actions that will help prevent future pandemics of zoonotic origin.
The essay brings together the professional knowledge of public health, infectious disease and conservation experts to make the case for science-based actions to support proven strategies that will protect nature, save lives, lessen the long-term economic costs of pandemics, and ultimately support the health of the planet and humanity overall.
The authors highlight that there has been little concrete action taken to mitigate pandemic risk despite the prevalence of research revealing spillover of pathogens from animals to people as the predominant cause of emerging infectious disease. With the World Health Assembly now negotiating a global pandemic agreement, the pending creation of a global pandemic prevention fund, and the global biodiversity framework scheduled to be agreed upon by the Convention on Biological Diversity later this year – the landscape is ripe to address the disconnect.
Susan Lieberman, Vice President, International Policy at the Wildlife Conservation Society, said: “In the case of modern pandemics, an ounce of prevention is really worth trillions of dollars of cure. There is much discussion of pandemic preparedness and response, but the most cost-effective and equitable approach is to prioritize prevention at source. The science is clear on actions needed to prevent pathogen spillover; business as usual cannot be an option.”
“Spillover has likely caused every viral pandemic over the last century and its potential to trigger new pandemics is only growing,” said Dr. Neil Vora, the essay’s lead author, public health physician and pandemic prevention fellow at Conservation International. “We are urgently asking the world’s policymakers to grow investments in preventing pandemics at the source. With three hugely important policy moments on the horizon, the time to act is now. Failure to do so will leave the world in a perilous position, one where the next global pandemic remains on the horizon.”
Four key actions must be taken to prevent pandemics before they start, all of which would limit opportunities for humans and animals to exchange viruses:
The essay also discusses three key opportunities for the global community to take urgent action in support of the above. They are:
Read the full essay and its policy recommendations here.
Supporting quotes from the essay’s authors:
“Designed and funded right, these three commitments could bring a preventative health approach to the entire planet, help heal our relationship with nature and prevent future pandemics. We hope that by highlighting what we know can work, we will guide decisionmakers toward an affordable and effective solution that is currently overlooked in the race to reduce pandemics,” said Hannah.
“Land use change, especially deforestation in tropical countries, is a major source of pathogen spillover from wildlife to humans. Tackling tropical deforestation, therefore, can drastically reduce the likelihood of a new pandemic like COVID-19, while also safeguarding indigenous peoples, biodiversity, and the world’s climate,” said Vale.
“In the case of modern pandemics, an ounce of prevention is really worth trillions of dollars of cure. There is much discussion of pandemic preparedness and response, but the most cost-effective and equitable approach is to prioritize prevention at source. The science is clear on actions needed to prevent pathogen spillover; business as usual cannot be an option,” said Plowright.
“Spillover is the spark that ignites pandemics. World leaders must urgently act to prevent pandemics before they start and not solely rely on measures that seek to limit disease outbreaks. This requires looking beyond the walls around our institutions and disciplines that we’ve built that obscure and forestall spillover prevention, which affords a more equitable and cost-effective response to pandemic risk,” said Bernstein.
About Conservation International: Conservation International protects nature for the benefit of humanity. Through science, policy, fieldwork and finance, we spotlight and secure the most important places in nature for the climate, for biodiversity and for people. With offices in 30 countries and projects in more than 100 countries, Conservation International partners with governments, companies, civil society, Indigenous peoples and local communities to help people and nature thrive together. Go to Conservation.org for more, and follow our work on Conservation News, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, Instagram and YouTube.
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