Sunday, November 21, 2021

Pandemic ponderings: Protect nature to avoid future pandemics

IPBES Pandemics report identified the risk and solutions

New research from the University of Queensland highlights Biodiversity loss and ecosystem health are strongly linked to human health. Scientists have investigated the links between the COVID-19 pandemic and the deterioration of the world’s ecosystems and their biodiversity, discovering feedback loops that suggest a potential increase in future pandemics.

“We’ve long known that issues like land-use change, intensive livestock production, wildlife trade, and climate change drive the emergence of zoonotic diseases, as they increase human-wildlife interactions." said Master of Conservation Biology graduate Odette Lawler, a contributor of the study  in Professor Salit Kark’s Biodiversity Research Group at University of Queensland. 

The study was published in Lancet Planetary Health as  The COVID-19 pandemic is intricately linked to biodiversity loss and ecosystem health.


Key Research messages:

  • Multiple anthropogenic drivers promote zoonotic pathogen spillover and disease emergence, such as land-use change, intensive livestock production, wildlife trade, and climate change

  • Effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on biodiversity and ecosystem health can exacerbate drivers of zoonotic and infectious disease emergence, increasing the risk for future zoonotic pathogen spillover events and possible public health crises; these cyclic relationships create a positive feedback loop.

  • Biodiversity and ecosystem health effects of COVID-19 are diverse and interconnected, and include effects on conservation funding, tourism, environmental policy, Indigenous land managers, and human-wildlife contact.

  • Decision makers should consider how actions and strategies in response to COVID-19 could affect drivers of zoonotic disease, biodiversity, and ecosystem health, and urgently act to minimise their negative effects and feedback loops.

  • A One Health collaborative approach, decision science, and sustainable pandemic recovery strategies provide important tools for addressing both the COVID-19 pandemic recovery globally and future zoonotic spillover risk, while taking into account biodiversity and ecosystem health.
  • The research highlights the extensive gap in the "insufficient understanding of the interconnectedness of human and environmental health among policy makers, insufficient cross-boundary collaboration, and deficient resourcing for conservation and ecosystem health. "

    The research also found that responses to the Covid-19 pandemic is exacerbating the broader issue of future pandemic disease outbreaks. We are digging a deeper hole.

    “Now we’ve also found that these issues are being compounded by outcomes of the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in feedback loops that are likely to promote future zoonotic disease outbreaks." said Lawler.

    “For example, research has found that rates of deforestation have substantially increased in many regions around the world over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.

    “This is likely due to some combination of pandemic-related factors, including decreased enforcement of forest protections, relaxation of sustainability agreements and environmental deregulation, increased pressures on low-income communities, and threats to Indigenous land managers.

    “This means that COVID-19 – a pandemic sparked by a pathogen spilling from animal to human populations – has played a part in fuelling further deforestation, which in turn increases risk of future zoonotic disease emergence by increasing human-wildlife interactions.”

    The recent UN climate change conference, COP26 in Glasgow, had over 100 countries sign up to a pledge to stop deforestation and end land degradation by 2030. But previous efforts at ending deforestation have not brought the success needed. Latest details from South America shows Amazon deforestation in Brazil has hit its worst level in 15 years. Although deforrestation in Indonesia has slowed, only losing 10% of tropical forests in the last two decades, the Indonesian Environment Minister has seemingly gone back on the deforestation pledge already.

    In a global deforestation analysis report published in January 2021 by WWF, Australia was identified as the only country in the developed world to appear on the list, with eastern Australia named alongside Colombia, Peru, Laos and Mozambique as locations with “medium” rates of deforestation. The countries with high rates of deforestation include Brazil, Bolivia, Madagascar and Borneo.

    The University of Queensland research team stressed that responses to COVID-19 must include actions aimed at safeguarding biodiversity and ecosystems.

    Senior researcher UQ’s Professor Salit Kark, who led and supervised the study said that such responses would benefit from adopting what is known in public health and conservation circles as a One Health approach.

    “One Health is a collaborative, transdisciplinary approach that aims to optimise health outcomes for communities arising from factors operating, for example, at the intersections between people, animals and their shared environment,” Professor Kark said.

    “It’s an approach that can help holistically address outbreaks before they happen, working closely with the community and engaging people in preventative ecosystem and human health.

    “Here in Australia, the emphasis should be on developing close, long-term collaboration and engagement with First Nations communities and other partners to address these risks.

    “And, internationally, Australia has so many valuable ties, which can be strengthened through working together with other nations to address the drivers of zoonotic disease emergence. In this paper, for example, the team closely collaborated with a group based in Nepal working in the area.

    “It’s vital we invest in protecting biodiversity and ecosystem health and address the drivers of zoonotic disease.

    “If we don’t, we really are increasing the likelihood of future zoonotic disease emergence and further pandemics arising, and we now all know just how world-altering and high-impact they can be.”

    The report dives into and examones the multiple drivers of pandemics, including  land-use change, intensive livestock production, wildlife trade, and anthropogenic climate change. 

    Climate Change as one of the Pandemic risk drivers

    On climate change as one of the drivers the report says:

    Anthropogenic climate change affects the incidence of zoonotic disease emergence in humans, as shifting climatic conditions drive alterations in both host and vector spatial distributions, population densities, pathogen load in individuals, and the prevalence of pathogens in potential animal reservoirs. Climate change can also affect the interactions between reservoir hosts, intermediate hosts, vectors, and pathogens, and drive the evolution of pathogens, and, where relevant, their hosts and vectors. All of these factors can, individually or combined, affect the transmission dynamics between pathogen hosts and can influence the likelihood of the emergence of a zoonotic disease in human populations. The effects of climate change are especially relevant for vector-borne zoonotic diseases, including many already established in the human population, such as mosquito-borne Rift Valley fever and West Nile fever.

    The researchers warn that pandemic response and recovery policies if not carefully crafted, could "further promote the drivers of zoonotic spillover, hence, reinforcing a feedback loop further contributing to the rising trend of disease emergence."

    Addressing biodiversity and conservation to reduce pandemic risk

    The researchers articulate a number of important actions/solutions around sustainable socio-economic recovery and conservation investment that will also reduce future pandemic health risk including:

    • Increased conservation and conservation funding 
    • Economic Recovery policies should incorporate low carbon sustainability criteria
    • Addressing low-income and rural population equity and social needs
    • Strong support for Indigenous peoples traditional knowledge and biodiversity stewardship
    • Redirecting subsidies from projects that do not promote sustainability objectives to ones that do
    • Biodiversity and ecosystem supporting job creation
    • Better Regulation and surveillance of global wildlife trade
    • Applying decision science to prevent emerging infectious diseases
    • Taking a One Health approach that integrates knowledge from different fields and acknowledges the tight relationship to the health of our planet and general human health.

    The research concludes with a warning that we need to address conservation and biodiversity in managing future pandemic risk as part of general human health:

    Without immediate and sufficient reform of our response to zoonotic disease emergence and high-impact events, such as the COVID-19 crisis—including efforts to return to business as usual—biodiversity, ecosystems, and human health will continue to suffer. As the links and feedback loops between biodiversity and ecosystem health, COVID-19 and emerging infectious diseases are becoming clearer, conservation actions and a One Health approach are urgently needed to manage zoonotic risk and avoid further feedback loops that can negatively impact human health, biodiversity and ecosystem health.

    IPBES Pandemics Report provides warnings and solutions

    Many of the conclusions echo the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) workshop conducted in July 2020 which produced a report titled: Workshop Report on Biodiversity and Pandemics

    It articulated that COVID-19 is at least the sixth global health pandemic since the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918, and "although it has its origins in microbes carried by animals, like all pandemics its emergence has been entirely driven by human activities. The report estimated that another 1.7 million currently ‘undiscovered’ viruses exist in mammals and birds – of which up to 827,000 could have the ability to infect people. 

    Dr. Peter Daszak, President of EcoHealth Alliance and Chair of the IPBES workshop said at the time of the reports release in July 2020: 

     “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 IPBES workshop report makes abundantly clear Pandemic risk can be significantly lowered by:

    • reducing the human activities that drive the loss of biodiversity, 
    • greater conservation of protected areas, 
    • measures that reduce unsustainable exploitation of high biodiversity regions. This will reduce wildlife-livestock-human contact and help prevent the spillover of new diseases.

    “The overwhelming scientific evidence points to a very positive conclusion,” said Dr. Daszak. “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 diseases after they emerge, through vaccines and therapeutics. We can escape the era of pandemics, but this requires a much greater focus on prevention in addition to reaction.” 

    John Oliver gives a pretty good argument in Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO) in February 2021 of the risks of the next pandemic.


    References:

    • University of Queensland Media Release, 17 November, 2021. Protect nature to avoid future pandemics https://science.uq.edu.au/article/2021/11/protect-nature-avoid-future-pandemics
    • Odette K Lawler, Hannah L Allan, Peter W J Baxter, Romi Castagnino, Marina Corella Tor, Leah E Dann, Joshua Hungerford, Dibesh Karmacharya, Thomas J Lloyd, María José López-Jara, Gloeta N Massie, Junior Novera, Andrew M Rogers, Prof Salit Kark, (November, 2021) The COVID-19 pandemic is intricately linked to biodiversity loss and ecosystem health  DOI:https://doi.org/10.1016/S2542-5196(21)00258-8 https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanplh/article/PIIS2542-5196(21)00258-8/fulltext
    • IPBES (2020) Workshop Report on Biodiversity and Pandemics of the Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services. Daszak, P., das Neves, C., Amuasi, J., Hayman, D., Kuiken, T., Roche, B., Zambrana-Torrelio, C., Buss, P., Dundarova, H., Feferholtz, Y., Foldvari, G., Igbinosa, E., Junglen, S., Liu, Q., Suzan, G., Uhart, M., Wannous, C., Woolaston, K., Mosig Reidl, P., O'Brien, K., Pascual, U., Stoett, P., Li, H., Ngo, H. T., IPBES secretariat, Bonn, Germany, DOI:10.5281/zenodo.4147317 



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