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Wednesday, October 4, 2023

World Zoonoses Day: Wild Africa Fund urges wildlife protection to reduce risks from another pandemic

As the world marks World Zoonoses Day on Thursday, July 6, 2023, Wild Africa Fund has called for urgent actions to curb illegal wildlife trade, deforestation and climate change to reduce the risk of future disease transmissions.

Africa faces a growing risk as it grapples with population growth, rapid urbanisation, deforestation and the commercial bushmeat trade. There has been a 63% increase in the number of zoonotic outbreaks, such as Ebola and monkeypox diseases in the region from 2012 to 2022 compared to the previous decade (2001 to 2011), according to the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Across the globe, over 60 percent of human infectious diseases are believed to be spread by deadly germs found in animals. Before COVID in the last two decades, zoonotic diseases have caused economic losses of more than $100 billion, according to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP).

Zoonotic diseases such as Covid-19, Ebola, Anthrax, Yellow fever, Marburg virus, and Monkeypox (Mpox) are increasingly common throughout Africa and around the world.  Scientists say there are about 700,000 unknown zoonotic diseases that can potentially jump from animals and infect humans.

In the last 12 months, several infectious disease outbreaks have been recorded in Africa and across the world, including these major zoonotic disease outbreaks:

  • COVID-19 pandemic
  • Anthrax
  • Marburg virus
  • Monkeypox (Mpox)
  • Ebola
  • Yellow fever
  • Lassa fever

The recent outbreaks of anthrax, monkeypox (now known as Mpox) and Marburg virus in some parts of Africa as well as the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic serve as a reminder that zoonotic diseases continue to pose a significant threat to our health, economies and global security. The Nigerian government recently issued an advisory warning citizens to desist from consuming bushmeat in the immediate aftermath of the outbreak of anthrax – believed to have spread from animals – in northern Ghana.

Wild Africa Fund has disclosed that it is running an awareness campaign using TV, radio, print media, billboard and social media to inform people across Africa that the health of humans, animals and the environment are highly interconnected, and we must protect wildlife to protect ourselves “Keep them wild, keep us safe.”

“As a notable hub for trafficking of illegal wildlife, Nigeria cannot afford to be the epicentre of the next pandemic, disastrous in terms of human health and economically. We must quickly pass the new wildlife law introduced before the election, increase our enforcement and awareness efforts to stop illegal bushmeat trade, to mitigate the spread of zoonotic diseases and to protect our environment,” said Dr Mark Ofua, Veterinarian and Wild Africa Fund Nigerian spokesperson.

“If you don’t know what’s out there, you’re destroying that ecosystem, and you’re creating that pathogenicity for humans to encroach into animals’ space to cut down trees and destroy their environment and come into contact with wildlife. If the human population is not used to any particular pathogen, it will have no immunity, which now creates an opportunity for it to spread quickly among the human population. Ebola will kill six out of 10 people. Lassa fever will kill five out of 10 people,” said Professor Akin Abayomi, a One Health advocate in Lagos State, Nigeria largest city and commercial hub. “Look at what COVID did to the global economy; we’re still recovering.”

The COVID-19 pandemic resulted in the deaths of nearly 7 million people – more than the size of New Zealand’s entire population – and is estimated to cost the global economy $12.5 trillion over the next year, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Following the coronavirus outbreak, which was believed to have spread from a live animal market, the Chinese government banned the breeding, sale and consumption of most wild animals for food. Yet across Africa, particularly in West and Central Africa, unregulated live wildlife markets persist despite the risk of a future outbreak.

Co-founder and CEO of Wild Africa Fund, Peter Knights, stated: “We must defuse this ticking bomb by moving urban consumers away from illegal bushmeat through education and enforcing laws and preserving what wildlife habitat remains. At the same time, we must develop alternatives sources of income and protein for those that hunt bushmeat.”

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