Future pandemics will be quicker, deadlier without change in strategy, study says

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Oct. 29 (UPI) — International experts in a new scientific study warned on Thursday that pandemics like COVID-19 will emerge more often in the future unless more targeted efforts are made to control them.

The 62-page assessment by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) says future pandemics will spread quicker, kill more people and cause greater economic damage than COVID-19 unless there’s a “seismic shift” from reaction to prevention.

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Experts said while pandemics typically originate in diverse microbes carried by animal reservoirs, human activities and their environmental impact help drive their emergence.

“There is no great mystery about the cause of the COVID-19 pandemic — or any modern pandemic,” said Dr. Peter Daszak, chair of the IPBES workshop and president of the EcoHealth Alliance. “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 report says the risks are increasing rapidly and any of the several new diseases that emerge each year could create another global heath crisis.

It says risk can be reduced through conservation and other measures to reduce human activities that contribute to biodiversity loss. That, the authors say, will dwindle human contact with wildlife and spillover of new diseases.

“We have the increasing ability to prevent pandemics — but the way we are tackling them right now largely ignores that ability,” Daszak added. “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 much greater focus on prevention in addition to reaction.”

Fiscally, the report notes, the economic damage created by pandemics is about 100 times higher than the estimated cost of prevention.

Experts say there are 1.7 million unknown viruses that currently exist in animals and about 850,000 of those could potentially infect humans.

The report recommends creating a high-level intergovernmental pandemic prevention council to provide decision-makers with data and evidence about emerging diseases and help leaders evaluate the impacts. The councilors would also coordinate a global monitoring mechanism.

It also calls for new taxes on meat consumption, livestock production and other forms of high-risk human activities that invite pandemics.

The United Nations-backed study came from a virtual workshop the IPBES convened to investigate the relationship between pandemic risk and the degradation of nature. Nearly two dozen experts were part of the workshop.

Scenes from a pandemic: World copes with COVID-19

A health worker with the Israeli national emergency service, Magen David Adam, wears protective gear while taking swabs to test for COVID-19 at a drive-through testing center in East Jerusalem on August 26. Photo by Debbie Hill/UPI | License Photo