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Africa/Global: Preventing the Next Pandemic

AfricaFocus Bulletin
August 3, 2020 (2020-08-03 )
(Reposted from sources cited below)

Editor's Note

“COVID-19 is just one example of the rising trend of diseases – from Ebola to MERS to West Nile and Rift Valley fevers – caused by viruses that have jumped from animal hosts into the human population. … The rising trend in zoonotic diseases is driven by the degradation of our natural environment – through land degradation, wildlife exploitation, resource extraction, climate change, and other stresses.” - Press release from UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), Nairobi, July 6, 2020

While the world is still struggling to cope with the Covid-19 pandemic, which originated from bats in China, zoonotic diseases are a far more general issue, linked not only to wildlife but to domestic animals, particularly those in factory farming environments. Unless the impact of human economies on the natural environment can be managed differently, zoonotic diseases are certain to continue to be more prevalent, and some among them will become pandemic.

This AfricaFocus Bulletin contains the press release and excerpts from “Preventing the next pandemic: Zoonotic diseases and how to break the chain of transmission. “ This new report from two Nairobi-based global organizations makes the case that preventing such a development by catching diseases at an early stage depends on global coordination of research and policy on the intersection of animal health, human health, and the health of the environment. UN agencies are referring to this approach as “One Health,” and stepping up cooperation of specialized agencies to promote it.

Covid-19 has led to new attention to this need, as illustrated by recent articles in The Guardian, Foreign Affairs, Monthly Review, and SciDev Net.

Unfortunately there have also been stereotypes and rumors attached to the Chinese origin of Covid-19, such as the allegation that the virus may have originated from one of the foremost institutions involved in research on bat viruses and the erroneous stereotype that eating bats is a Chinese tradition, neither of which have any credibility among knowledgeable scientists. For a refutation of the bat-eating myth and an explanation of its origin, see this post by anthropologist Osten Cramer who has specialized in the wildlife trade in China and other Asian countries. And for more about Shi Zhengli, the leading virologist who began her work on bat viruses with SARS in 2004, see recent articles in Science magazine and Scientific American.

Shi and her work illustrate the kind of international scientific collaboration which Lancet editor Richard Horton has recently lauded as “the truly global collective effort” by scientists to respond to Covid-19, contrasting it to the failure of politicians, including the “crime against humanity” in President Trump's cutoff of funding to the World Health Organization.

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on health, visit

For previous AfricaFocus Bulletins on agriculture, visit

++++++++++++++++++++++end editor's note+++++++++++++++++

Unite human, animal and environmental health to prevent the next pandemic – UN Report

Press Release, 6 July, 2020, Nairobi

UN Environment Programme (UNEP) * International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)

* COVID-19 is just one example of the rising trend of diseases – from Ebola to MERS to West Nile and Rift Valley fevers – caused by viruses that have jumped from animal hosts into the human population.

* A new assessment offers ten recommendations, and identifies One Health as the optimal way to prevent and respond to future pandemics.

* The rising trend in zoonotic diseases is driven by the degradation of our natural environment – through land degradation, wildlife exploitation, resource extraction, climate change, and other stresses.

Nairobi, 6 July 2020 – As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to take lives and disrupt economies across the world, a new report warns that further outbreaks will emerge unless governments take active measures to prevent other zoonotic diseases from crossing into the human population, and sets out ten recommendations to prevent future pandemics.

The report, Preventing the Next Pandemic: Zoonotic diseases and how to break the chain of transmission, is a joint effort by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).

It identifies seven trends driving the increasing emergence of zoonotic diseases, including increased demand for animal protein; a rise in intense and unsustainable farming; the increased use and exploitation of wildlife; and the climate crisis. The report finds that Africa in particular, which has experienced and responded to a number of zoonotic epidemics including most recently, to Ebola outbreaks, could be a source of important solutions to quell future outbreaks.

“The science is clear that if we keep exploiting wildlife and destroying our ecosystems, then we can expect to see a steady stream of these diseases jumping from animals to humans in the years ahead,” said UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen. “Pandemics are devastating to our lives and our economies, and as we have seen over the past months, it is the poorest and the most vulnerable who suffer the most. To prevent future outbreaks, we must become much more deliberate about protecting our natural environment.”

A “zoonotic disease” or “zoonosis” is a disease that has passed into the human population from an animal source. COVID-19, which has already caused more than half a million deaths around the world, most likely originated in bats. But COVID-19 is only the latest in a growing number of diseases – including Ebola, MERS, West Nile fever and Rift Valley fever – whose spread from animal hosts into human populations has been intensified by anthropogenic pressures.

Every year, some two million people, mostly in low- and middle- income countries, die from neglected zoonotic diseases. The same outbreaks can cause severe illness, deaths, and productivity losses among livestock populations in the developing world, a major problem that keeps hundreds of millions of small-scale farmers in severe poverty. In the last two decades alone, zoonotic diseases have caused economic losses of more than $100 billion, not including the cost of the COVID-19 pandemic, which is expected to reach $9 trillion over the next few years.

African countries have an opportunity to lead pandemic prevention efforts

Zoonotic diseases are on the rise everywhere on the planet, and African countries – a number of which have successfully managed deadly zoonotic outbreaks – have the potential to leverage this experience to tackle future outbreaks through approaches that incorporate human, animal and environmental health. The continent is home to a large portion of the world’s remaining intact rainforests and other wild lands. Africa is also home to the world’s fastest-growing human population, leading to an increase in encounters between livestock and wildlife and in turn, the risk of zoonotic diseases.

“The situation on the continent today is ripe for intensifying existing zoonotic diseases and facilitating the emergence and spread of new ones,” said ILRI Director General Jimmy Smith. “But with their experiences with Ebola and other emerging diseases, African countries are demonstrating proactive ways to manage disease outbreaks. They are applying, for example, novel risk-based rather than rule-based approaches to disease control, which are best suited to resource-poor settings, and they are joining up human, animal and environment expertise in proactive One Health initiatives.”

The report’s authors identify the One Health approach -- which unites public health, veterinary and environmental expertise -- as the optimal method for preventing as well as responding to zoonotic disease outbreaks and pandemics.

Participants in media sensitization activity held on 15 November 2019 at ILRI Nairobi, Kenya (photo credit: ILRI/Paul Karaimu).]

10 recommendations

The report identifies ten practical steps that governments can take to prevent future zoonotic outbreaks:

  1. Investing in interdisciplinary approaches, including One Health;
  2. Expanding scientific enquiry into zoonotic diseases;
  3. Improving cost-benefit analyses of interventions to include full-cost accounting of societal impacts of disease;
  4. Raising awareness of zoonotic diseases;
  5. Strengthening monitoring and regulation practices associated with zoonotic diseases, including food systems;
  6. Incentivizing sustainable land management practices and developing alternatives for food security and livelihoods that do not rely on the destruction of habitats and biodiversity;
  7. Improving biosecurity and control, identifying key drivers of emerging diseases in animal husbandry and encouraging proven management and zoonotic disease control measures;
  8. Supporting the sustainable management of landscapes and seascapes that enhance sustainable co-existence of agriculture and wildlife;
  9. Strengthening capacities among health stakeholders in all countries; and
  10. Operationalizing the One Health approach in land-use and sustainable development planning, implementation and monitoring, among other fields.

The report launch comes on World Zoonoses Day, observed by research institutions and nongovernmental entities on 6 July, which commemorates the work of French biologist Louis Pasteur. On 6 July 1885, Pasteur successfully administered the first vaccine against rabies, a zoonotic disease.


Preventing the next pandemic: Zoonotic diseases and how to break the chain of transmission

Section Four Managing  and preventing  zoonoses:

This section sets out the One Health approach as the  most promising way to manage and prevent zoonoses; it also gives examples of its past successes and discusses some of the potential barriers to a wider uptake. Lessons from managing previous zoonotic outbreaks, including pandemics, are shared and discussed.

The One Health approach to controlling Zoonoses

Humanity’s experience in public health over the past centuries allows us to draw some broad lessons about effective management of zoonoses. The One Health approach can be defined as the collaborative effort across multiple disciplines to attain optimal health for people, animals and the environment. This approach has emerged as a key tool for preventing and managing diseases occurring at the interface of human, animal and environment health. At the same time, a closely related approach, known as “EcoHealth” has been defined as a set of systemic, participatory approaches necessary to understanding and promoting both health and well-being in the context of social and ecological interactions. Both the One Health and EcoHealth approaches emphasize multidisciplinary collaboration for holistic interventions that attain not only human health goals but also animal and environment health targets, the latter two of which are central to improving the control of neglected and emerging infectious diseases, many of which are zoonoses.

Though both One Health and EcoHealth approaches sit at the nexus of human, animal and environmental interactions, they have subtle differences: One Health, as generally practiced, emphasizes biomedical animal and human health, while EcoHealth pays more attention to the broader relations between health and ecosystems, focusing on the environment and related socio-economic systems. A third concept, “Planetary Health,” focuses on human health in relation to global sustainability. As none of these terms has an agreed or standardized definition, and given their convergence and similarities, this assessment report adopts One Health as the umbrella term, as it can be most easily understood by decision- makers and the general public.

As we have seen, zoonotic diseases involve and affect human health, animal health and environment health.

The pathogens originate in animals, and the emergence or spillover of the diseases they cause in humans is usually the result of human actions, such as intensifying livestock production or degrading and fragmenting ecosystems, or exploiting wildlife unsustainably. As such, their management should be inter-sectoral. At the global level, three intergovernmental organisations, from different sectors, have specific mandates that address zoonotic diseases: the World Health Organization (WHO), the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

In response to the bird flu (HPAI) pandemic, these three intergovernmental organisations along with UNICEF, the United Nations System Influenza Coordination (UNSIC), and the World Bank developed a strategic framework for reducing the risks of emerging zoonoses.

This framework has five strategic elements that remain relevant today:

1. Build robust and well-governed public and animal health systems compliant with the WHO International Health Regulations (the amendment entered into force in July 2016) and OIE international standards through the pursuit of long-term interventions.

2. Prevent regional and international crises by controlling disease outbreaks through improved national and international emergency response capabilities.

3. Promote wide-ranging collaboration across sectors and disciplines.

4. Develop rational and targeted disease control programmes through the conduct of strategic research.

5. Better address concerns of the poor by shifting the focus from developed to developing economies, from potential to actual disease problems, and through a focus on the drivers of a broader range of locally important diseases.

In 2010, FAO, OIE and WHO started collaborative work to address risks at the human-animal-ecosystems interface as described in the FAO/OIE/WHO Tripartite Concept Note. In 2019, they updated their joint 2008 tripartite guide on zoonoses and other One Health issues. Other intergovernmental organisations also have interests in environment, animal and human health, notably the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), some Multilateral Environmental Agreements (MEAs) and the World Bank. The Convention on Biological Diversity has developed Biodiversity-inclusive One Health Guidance. And there are many other organisations, institutes, programmes, government agencies and nongovernmental organisations working in this space. CGIAR, for example, is the world’s largest global agricultural innovation network; one of CGIAR’s constituent centres, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), has programmes working on livestock and human health and sustainable livestock systems.

In general, environment health initiatives have been less well represented than animal, livestock and human health initiatives in global zoonoses prevention and control programmes. But the environment is key to the emerging One Health approaches that are spearheading zoonoses risk reduction and control at regional and national levels.

Role of environmental health and its practitioners in Uganda’s One Health programmes

Environmental health practitioners in Uganda have significantly helped to reduce sickness and deaths caused by zoonotic disease outbreaks such as Ebola. These practitioners work at the frontlines of disease surveillance. Their tasks include the following:

• Inspecting livestock before slaughter as well as the meat in slaughterhouses and butcheries;

• Monitoring the destruction of condemned meat;

• Investigating zoonotic disease outbreaks and monitoring disease control programmes;

• Ensuring the control of disease vectors and vermin such as rats, fleas, mosquitoes and monkeys;

• Providing communities with health education on pertinent issues such as vaccination of children and pets;

• Involving themselves in all matters related to food safety; and

• Helping to enforce Uganda’s public health legislation.

In short, Uganda’s environmental health practitioners are the very embodiment of the One Health approach to healthy people, animals and the environment. To stop disease outbreaks in the future, Uganda will be relying on this remarkable group of “environmental health activists” to advise on, plan, implement, manage and monitor the country’s many One Health activities.


Frequently Asked Questions

Preventing the Next Pandemic: Zoonotic diseases and how to break the chain of transmission

By the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI)

What are zoonotic diseases?

  • Zoonotic diseases (also known as zoonoses) are illnesses that are caused by germs that spread between animals and people.
  • Examples of zoonoses include HIV/AIDS, Ebola, Lyme disease, malaria, rabies, West Nile virus, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), in addition to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19).
  • Certain animals are more likely to harbor zoonotic pathogens. These include rodents, bats, and non-human primates, as well as economically important livestock such as pigs, cows and chickens.
  • The pathogens most likely to jump species from animal to human are those that are widely distributed, mutate rapidly and have multiple hosts.

In China's Guangxi province in 2004, Shi Zhengli releases a fruit bat after taking a blood sample. Credit: Shuyi Zhang. Source: Scientific American.

What is driving the spread of zoonotic diseases?

* In the last hundred years, the world has seen massive increases in human populations, resulting in massive decreases in natural environments. These two parallel trends are critical parts of the complex chain of events that has triggered a rise in the emergence and spread of new zoonoses.

* Many of the new zoonoses have emerged in low- and middle-income countries.

* Seven specific factors are driving this trend:

o Increasing demand for animal protein
o Unsustainable agricultural intensification
o Increased use and exploitation of wildlife
o Unsustainable use of natural resources accelerated by urbanization, land use
change and extractive industries
o Travel and transportation
o Changes in food supply chains
o Climate change

Africa has an opportunity to lead pandemic prevention efforts

* Many African countries have significant experience managing pandemics – including the recent Ebola outbreaks in the Democratic Republic of the Congo - and can use this experience to prevent future pandemics. In Uganda, for example, officials have been able to reduce sickness and deaths caused by zoonotic diseases, including Ebola, malaria and Rift Valley fever. Their techniques include using satellite systems to anticipate heavy rainfall events, which can produce mosquito swarms that can trigger outbreaks.

* By adopting a One Health approach that unites human, animal and environmental health, African countries can take the lead in developing and implementing strategies to prevent future pandemics.

[more FAQ in full document on-line]

AfricaFocus Bulletin is an independent electronic publication providing reposted commentary and analysis on African issues, with a particular focus on U.S. and international policies. AfricaFocus Bulletin is edited by William Minter.

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