The World Health Organization (WHO) is working closely with global experts, governments and partners to rapidly expand scientific knowledge about this new virus, to track the spread and virulence of the virus, and to advise countries and individuals on health and safety measures prevent this outbreak from spreading. Photo credit: WHONEW YORK, Dec 23 (IPS) – Cristián Samper works for the Wildlife Conservation Society, an organization that works with wildlife health worldwide. And he warned – even before the Covid 19 pandemic – of the dangers of a virus pandemic.
Excerpts from the interview:
Q: How exactly is wildlife health related to the spread of Covid-19?
A: We have to remember that Covid-19, like many other diseases, is a zoonotic disease. We are a species that shares the planet with millions of other species, and we all have viruses. In fact, we estimate that there are likely to be more than 700,000 viruses with zoonotic potential, and from time to time some of these viruses change species and sometimes spread to humans.
We have long had an interest in wildlife health through our work to protect endangered species. We must remember that nearly three quarters of the viral diseases we acquire as humans come from animals. Understanding the numerous interfaces between humans and animals is crucial in order to prevent future pandemic diseases.
Q: At a conference in October last year, your organization revised the One Health approach, which you call the Berlin Principles. What is this more holistic approach to health all about?
A: In 2004, we organized a conference in New York where we brought together communities that do not normally interact. You have the entire animal and conservation group and a whole human health and medicine community. Most of the time we don’t talk to each other.
A series of so-called Manhattan Principles emerged from this meeting, which introduced this concept of One Health.
The good news is that the general approach of seeing the links between human health, animal health, animal health and ecosystem health has grown in importance. We are seeing it be used more and more by different groups including the World Health Organization.
However, we felt it was important to update these principles as so much has changed over time, including the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). That led to the conference we held in Berlin a year ago.
We have brought together over 250 experts from these different communities and adopted the Berlin principles there. These are ten core practices that we as a society must adopt in order to be able to see these connections.
Cristián SamperQ: Your organization recently published a paper on how biodegradation increases the risk of the spread of pandemics and viruses in general. How is the way we deal with nature associated with increased risks in this regard?
A: That’s right. One of the things we advocate is the importance of protecting what we call intact forests and intact ecosystems. Once you enter an area and start mining or opening it up, you upset the entire balance between the different species.
If you increase the rate of deforestation in some areas and move people there, you increase the human-animal interface. The likelihood that people will come into contact with different animal species increases dramatically. Allies
One of the best things we can do is protect some of these mostly intact ecosystems – forests and other systems. This would not only contribute to conservation, but also reduce the interface between humans and animals – and thus reduce the likelihood of pathogens with pandemic potential.
Q: What should have happened in the specific case of Covid-19 to prevent the virus from spreading at all?
A: This is directly related to the issue of commercial wildlife trade and consumption. WCS recommends ending all commercial trade in wildlife for human consumption (particularly birds and mammals) and closing all of these markets. Strict enforcement of existing laws, regulations and international treaties that deal with wildlife trade and markets is imperative, but it is simply not enough.
A new paradigm is needed to avoid a pandemic like the one we are experiencing today. In addition, you need to monitor better. You need to know what viruses are out there and you need to clean up your supply chains as best you can.
The problem is, there are plenty of other coronaviruses in wildlife right now that humans are consuming – and any of them could jump. So it could be that Covid-21 or Covid-22 is coming our way and we need to strengthen surveillance systems, reduce deforestation and stop all trade in wild animals for human consumption (especially birds and mammals).
Q: China and Vietnam have actually taken steps to ban wildlife trade and markets. Have the lessons of the coronavirus pandemic been learned in at least some parts of the world?
A: I am hopeful. We were encouraged that China actually put in place a temporary ban on wildlife markets when the Covid-19 outbreak happened.
And the good news is that China has now taken steps to permanently close many wildlife markets to human consumption. There are some important loopholes here. There are still problems with Chinese medicine and some other elements which, of course, are very important cultural traditions and practices. That needs to be dealt with separately.
Vietnam also made an announcement in this regard. The Vietnamese prime minister said they want to close the wildlife markets. We have the information that this has not really been implemented yet. We hope it can, but the signal at the front was clearly important. There are other countries like Indonesia and others in the region that are currently considering this.
And let me mention one more thing that is important. We have made an important difference in our statements and guidelines. We are specifically talking about commercial markets for wildlife for human consumption. We understand that wildlife is very important to local livelihoods and livelihoods in many communities.
The data shows that if you harvest some wildlife directly for local consumption in the wild, the chances of transmission are much lower. The problem is when these wild animals are brought into a supply chain, to markets in the cities, where the number of viruses increases dramatically. So we are not proposing a general ban and we certainly do not intend to negatively affect the local livelihoods in the wild areas.
Q: That leads me perfectly to my last question. In a recent article, you wrote that “protection and conservation” should not be viewed as “competing interests in economic and social development”. How then are we supposed to understand the relationship between the two?
A: There has always been this false dichotomy of either conserving something or using it. We realize that nature offers us so many services, be it clean water, clean air, or food. We all rely on nature, be it directly in the wild or through the products and goods and services we all use on a daily basis.
The challenge, however, is that many of these ecosystem services are not valued by the markets. That has led to their destruction, their mismanagement.
Issues such as the preservation of intact forests are important to prevent the overflow of pathogens at the interfaces between humans and animals and to reduce the likelihood of pandemics. We have more and more scientific evidence that shows that mature forests also bind carbon very quickly, so that they actually help combat climate change. There are so many dimensions and we are only just beginning to bring together all of these pieces of added value by nature.
Conservation not only affects livelihoods, but also helps with more general geopolitical issues. For example, we have worked hard to strengthen protected areas in the Sudano-Sahel region in Africa as an anchor of good governance. This will also help improve governance and build communities that are much more stable.
In doing so, you will help prevent migration, reduce the effects of climate change on most of these people, and reduce political conflict. All of this is due to the wave of refugees landing in Europe and elsewhere. Investing in nature, investing in nature conservation and supporting local livelihoods are also an opportunity to deal with issues of security and migration.
Source: International Politics and Society (IPS).
The online IPS journal, launched in January 2017, sheds light on global inequality and offers new perspectives on topics such as the environment, European integration, international relations, social democracy and development policy. IPS is based in the Brussels office of the Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung (FES) and aims to make the European political debate accessible to a global audience and to offer a platform for voices from the global south. Contributors include leading journalists, academics, and politicians, as well as politicians across the FES global network.
Follow @IPSNewsUNBureauFollow IPS New UN Bureau on Instagram
(2020) – All rights reserved