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Transformative change urgently needed in global approach to infectious diseases – IPBES report

Addressing disruptive human activities and unsustainable consumption and increasing biodiversity conservation are some of the changes needed to proactively deal with infectious diseases, suggests a new report on biodiversity and pandemics.

Elizabeth Maruma Mrema
CBD Executive Secretary, Elizabeth Maruma Mrema

The report, from the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), an independent intergovernmental body comprising over 130 member governments, says unsustainable exploitation of the environment has led to almost all pandemics.

The report notes that reducing anthropogenic global environmental change will help reduce pandemic risk. Pandemics and other emerging zoonoses cause both widespread human suffering and potentially more than a trillion dollars in economic damages annually.

According to IPBES, the cost of strategies to prevent pandemics are estimated to be between $40 and $58 billion annually, or two orders of magnitude less than the costs of responding to them.

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IPBES says COVID-19 is the sixth global health pandemic since the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918. Although it has its origins in microbes carried by animals, like all pandemics its emergence has been entirely driven by human activities.

“Biodiversity loss and disease emergence share many of the same drivers: human-made changes to nature that disrupt biodiversity, such as deforestation, land-use change and the way we manage agricultural and food production systems, to mention but some,” said Elizabeth Maruma Mrema, Executive Secretary, Convention on Biological Diversity Secretariat.

Pandemic risk, says the report, could be significantly lowered by reducing the unsustainable consumption of commodities from emerging disease hotspots, and of wildlife and derived wildlife products, as well as by reducing excessive meat consumption from livestock production. In addition, the conservation of protected areas, and measures that prevent human encroachment into high biodiversity regions will reduce the wildlife-livestock-human contact interface and help prevent the spillover of novel pathogens.

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“It is very clear that we must do better to prevent the emergence of infectious diseases rather than reacting to them once they are already here. Reducing present and future pandemic risks can only be effective, and transformative, if we address the common drivers of biodiversity loss and ill health,” says Mrema.

Conclusions reached in the report support the conclusions and recommendations put forth in the recently released fifth edition of the Global Biodiversity Outlook (GBO-5). The GBO-5 outlines eight major transitions needed to slow, then halt nature’s accelerating decline.

The IPBES report suggests global strategies to prevent pandemics based on reducing the wildlife trade and land use change and increasing One Health surveillance would cost between $40 and 58 billion annually – two orders of magnitude less than the damages pandemics produce, providing a strong economic incentive for transformative change to reduce the risk of pandemics.

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The IPBES report supports the lessons learned over the last decade of implementing the Strategic Plan for Biodiversity 2011-2020 and provides directions for the way forward in developing the post-2020 global biodiversity framework, to be agreed in 2021.

“The post-2020 global biodiversity framework,” says Ms. Mrema, “can play a significant role in building the resilience that the IPBES report identifies as needed need in the face of growing environmental, health and development challenges.”

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