Joint UN-CGIAR assessment explains how animal-to-human pandemics like COVID-19 occur and how to prevent them in future

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Cover of the new ILRI-UNEP zoonoses report and a graphic representation of the virus causing COVID-19—SARS-CoV-2—by ILRI communications specialist Annabel Slater.

[A] scientific assessment from the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) finds that unless countries take dramatic steps to curb zoonotic contagions, global outbreaks like COVID-19 will become more common.

‘. . . The assessment, Preventing the next pandemic: Zoonotic diseases and how to break the chain of transmission, published on 6 July, describes how 60 per cent of the 1,400 microbes known to infect humans originated in animals.

While emerging contagions like COVID-19 dominate headlines, neglected zoonotic diseases kill at least 2 million people every year, mostly in developing countries. That is more than four times the current reported death toll of COVID-19.

‘”Zoonotic diseases, for me, really centre on issues like poverty and inequality,” says Doreen Robinson, a co-author of the assessment and UNEP’s Chief of Wildlife. “These diseases disproportionately affect people in less-developed countries. It’s only when a pandemic like COVID-19 happens that they start to become everyone’s problem.”. . .

[A]s the world’s population edges towards 8 billion, rampant development is putting humans and animals in increasingly close quarters, making it easier for diseases to vault between species.

‘”As we exploit more marginal areas, we are creating opportunities for transmission,” says Eric Fèvre, a professor of veterinary infectious diseases at the University of Liverpool and a jointly appointed ILRI researcher. “There is an increasing risk of seeing bigger epidemics and, eventually, a pandemic of the COVID-19 type as our footprint on the world expands.”

The cost of zoonotic epidemics is steep. The International Monetary Fund has predicted that COVID-19 alone will cause the global economy to contract by 3 per cent this year, wiping out $9 trillion in productivity through 2021. But even in the two decades before the pandemic, the World Bank estimated that zoonotic diseases had direct costs of more than $100 billion.

‘To prevent future outbreaks, countries need a coordinated, science-backed response to emerging zoonotic diseases, says Delia Grace, lead author of the report as well as a veterinary epidemiologist at ILRI and professor of food safety at the UK’s Natural Resources Institute. “Viruses don’t need a passport. You cannot tackle these issues on a nation-by-nation basis. We must integrate our responses for human health, animal health, and ecosystem health to be effective.”

‘UNEP and ILRI are urging governments to embrace an inter-sectoral and interdisciplinary approach called One Health. It calls on states not only to buttress their animal as well as human healthcare systems, but also to address factors—like environmental degradation and increased demand for meat—that make it easier for diseases to jump species. Specifically, it encourages states to promote sustainable agriculture, strengthen food safety standards, monitor and help improve traditional food markets, invest in technology to track outbreaks, and provide new job opportunities for people who trade in wildlife. . . .

Fast facts on zoonotic diseases

  • Zoonotic diseases (also known as zoonoses) are illnesses caused by pathogens that spread from animals to people and from people to animals.
  • Examples of zoonoses include HIV-AIDS, Ebola, Lyme disease, malaria, rabies and West Nile fever, in addition to the disease cause by the novel coronavirus 2019, COVID-19.
  • Certain wild animals (including rodents, bats, carnivores and non-human primates) are most likely to harbour zoonotic pathogens, with livestock often serving as a bridge for transmission of the pathogens from their wildlife reservoir to their new human host.
  • In the world’s poorer countries, neglected endemic zoonoses associated with livestock production cause more than 2 million human deaths a year.

Read the whole article: As daily COVID-19 cases reach a new high, new report examines how to prevent future pandemics,, 6 Jul 2010.

Read the press release on ILRI.ORG: Unite human, animal and environmental health to prevent the next pandemic, says ILRI/UN report, 6 Jul 2020.

Read the report itself: Preventing the next pandemic: Zoonotic diseases and how to break the chain of transmission, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), Jul 2020.

Media coverage of the launch of the report on World Zoonoses Day, 6 Jul 2020, has been extensive. In the first five days since the launch (6–10 Jul), the report generated more than 400 articles in 378 outlets from 36 countries and in 9 languages, including:

Reuters: Curb climate change, protect environment to prevent future pandemics, countries told
Coronavirus: world treating symptoms, not cause of pandemics, says UN
Al Jazeera:
‘Human failing’: UN warns of rise in animal-to-human diseases
Der Spiegel:
Die nächste Pandemie kommt bestimmt
Coronavirus: Fear over rise in animal-to-human diseases
U.N. Predicts Rise In Diseases That Jump From Animals To Humans
The Independent:
UN warns of ‘steady stream’ of infectious diseases unless world tackles wildlife exploitation
Daily Nation:
The scientists working to prevent pandemics
South China Morning Post:
Human activity raises risk of more pandemics like Covid-19, warns UN report
La República:
Un informeinéditode la ONU adviertecómoy por quése originarála próximapandemia
CBC News:
Curb climate change, protect environment to prevent future pandemics, countries told
Associated Press:
UNEP Director: Current Pandemic A Human Failing
Business Standard:
More outbreaks if we keep exploiting wildlife, UN warns
The Jakarta Post:
Curb climate change, protect environment to prevent future pandemics, countries told
Times of India:
Curb climate change, protect environment to prevent future pandemics: Experts

Visit ILRI’s website pages devoted to related issues:
This ILRI-UNEP report
ILRI expertise on zoonotic diseases
ILRI’s One Health Research, Education and Outreach Centre for Africa
CGIAR Antimicrobial Resistance Hub, based at ILRI
ILRI research on food safety

Watch this 1-minute video short, by ILRI communications specialist Annabel Slater, rendered from an accurate model of the virus causing COVID-19—SARS-Cov-2—and showing the basic structure of the virus:

Watch a 2-minute video short illustrating ILRI’s expertise in zoonotic diseases:

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