July 5, 2020
Viruses passed from animals to human are on the increase, and now experts are hoping to find natural ways to prevent their spread.
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) hosted a webinar to discuss the matter, hoping it would provide people with the opportunity to examine the ways in which human behaviours are increasing the risks of another pandemic.
A WWF team has been reviewing the scientific literature, searching for a connection between emerging zoonotic diseases and conservation in the hopes of understanding how best to design and implement conservation interventions to reduce the risk.
Acting head of the Policy and Futures Unit at WWF Tatjana von Bormann said: “It’s critical to understand this information for our near-term decisions in response to the pandemic and the long-term planning for the sustainability of our society.”
Bormann said the Covid-19 pandemic may be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to study human behaviours and to find ways of working together to reduce the probability and emergence of further viral outbreaks.
WWF International chief scientist and senior vice-president Rebecca Shaw said there has been a rise in the emergence of infectious diseases from animals, with roughly two new diseases each year.
“We wanted to develop a bold strategy and search for a solution that benefits both animals and humans,” said Shaw.
Seven different zoonotic pathogens were focused on in the webinar. Each had a different animal host with various ways of transmitting to humans.
Shaw attributed the spike in zoonotic diseases over the past few years to wildlife exploitation, which has caused ever-increasing contact between animals and humans.
“Some of the zoonotic diseases resulted in human-to-human transmission. It is these diseases which become pandemics as people spread them. The three direct drivers of change that result in the greatest risk of future pandemics are land-use change, intensification and expansion of agriculture, animal production and the sale and consumption of high-risk wild animals,” she said.
Shaw said how and where food is produced also plays a role. Some farms are closer to where wild animals with diseases live. If these farms don’t have proper security measures, the risk of spillover increases.
“Conservation interventions can reduce the number of interactions between humans and animals. We will also have to consume less wildlife and other animal protein,” Shaw said.