According to scientists, preventing future pandemics would only be a fraction of what it costs to prevent the spread of viruses from wildlife to humans.
New analysis has found that more than 3,000,000 people die each year from zoonotic infections, those that spread from wildlife into humans. Stopping the destruction or nature, which brings people and wildlife closer together and results in spillover, will cost around $20bn per annum, 10% of the annual economic damage from zoonoses and just 5% of what it costs to save lives.
Scientists strongly criticise global bodies and governments’ focus on preventing new viruses from spreading once they infect humans. They also stress the need to address the root causes. This is a great piece of folly in modern times, according Prof Aaron Bernstein, from the Center for Climate, Health and the Global Environment, Harvard University, who led the new assessment.
It outlines three key actions: better control over hunting and trade in wildlife and global surveillance of viruses in wildlife. These actions could also make a huge difference in fighting the climate emergency as well as the biodiversity crisis.
The presence of many viruses in wildlife is well-known. Experts have repeatedly warned that the root cause of the Covid-19 epidemic must be addressed since its inception. The world is now playing a deadly game of Russian Roulette with pathogens. It is imperative to protect nature and prevent another pandemic.
Our salvation comes cheap [because]Bernstein stated that prevention is more cost-effective than treatment. If Covid-19 taught us anything it was that we cannot rely solely on post-spillover strategy to protect us. Instead of spending trillions of dollars to fix the tsunami, you can save lives by spending five cents per dollar.
Bernstein said that the failure to act to stop pandemics from their source was due to pandemic response being led by medical scientists, and other organisations that were not experienced in protecting nature from spillover. He said that primary prevention does no result in corporations making profits.
The analysis Published in Science AdvancesThe author uses a harsh language that is not common in scientific journals. Prominent policymakers support plans that suggest the best ways to deal with future pandemics should be to detect and contain emerging threats from zoonotic species. In other words, we should not take actions until humans are sick. It’s a stark disagreement.
It specifically criticizes the Global Preparedness Monitoring Board, a joint initiative by the World Bank (WHO) and the World Health Organizations (WHO), as well as a G20 high level panel on financing for pandemic readiness whose reports and strategies don’t mention tackling spillover.
The analysis includes every zoonotic disease that has killed more than 10 people in the last century, including the Spanish flu, multiple bird flu outbreaks and Ebola.
Researchers compared the costs of preventing spillover to determine the average annual deaths and economic cost from these viruses. The benefits of action were so great that even if it reduced the risk of major pandemics by 1%, it would still be cost-effective.
The recommended action includes a global project to identify and track wildlife viruses. This will help to identify hotspots of risk and improve enforcement of wildlife trade and hunting regulations. It also recommends cutting down on deforestation. The cost-benefit analysis did NOT include the loss of jobs, family deaths, and education lost due to viral outbreaks in livestock and crops. This can amount to many billions.
Prof Marcia Castro also of Harvard University said. These investments in primary preventive measures bring about positive changes in human health, the environment, as well as economic development.
Neil Vora is an expert in outbreak response and is now at Conservation International. Vora said: Unfortunately dominant voices in public healthcare have historically neglected pandemic intervention like ending deforestation. This bias is based on a preference for immediate, quantifiable public health successes, such as the amount of vaccines that have been administered, over those that will take longer before the benefits are realized. These distant benefits are often immeasurable because their goal is to prevent a pandemic from ever happening.
A spokesperson for GPMB said that they supported the analysis. We agree that there is a significant gap in knowledge, institutional capacity, and financial resources that limits the ability to prevent pathogens from arising. Preventive actions are significantly more cost-effective than their direct impact on the global economy and the lives lost. Global leadership would be beneficial in certain areas such as spillover and prevention at source.
The spokesperson stated that GPMB reports had pointed out that global health security requires systems to detect, predict, prevent, identify, and detect pandemic pathogens. She said that a framework to monitor the world’s pandemic preparedness will be launched in 2022. It would likely include indicators related to biodiversity loss and deforestation.
Prof Stuart Pimm was a co-author on the new analysis. He stated: Pandemics won’t go away. The world’s population is growing and becoming more urbanized. It will get worse and we will be more at risk.