The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has taken over 6.4 million people’s lives worldwide and created unprecedented economic, political and social challenges. It also exacerbated many preexisting inequalities within countries.
In addition to these struggles, the thought of facing a future global health pandemic is enough to send someone over the edge. However, despite the seemingly limitless number of adverse effects brought on by the pandemic, there are several lessons to learn from this upheaval.
For example, scientists, researchers and industry experts are discussing the possibility of experiencing a future pandemic and identifying what can be done to best prepare. One major factor that will likely play a role and might contribute to another health crisis is sustainability — or the lack thereof.
Here’s more about the relationship between sustainability and pandemics and how taking environmental action could lower the risk of a future outbreak.
Identifying the Root of Pandemics: Zoonotic Spillover
It’s important to understand the role animals play in human health. They offer many benefits to people, but it’s reported that at least 60% of emerging infectious diseases have zoonotic origins.
Depending on the zoonotic disease, animals that appear healthy can still carry germs that make people sick. More than six out of 10 known infectious diseases spread from animals, while every three out of every four new or emerging ones originate with them.
Most human infections, including COVID-19, originate predominantly from viral zoonotic spillover, which, in simple terms, describes the viral transmission of pathogens spread by animals to humans. Animals carrying a zoonotic disease may be wild or farmed.
Thankfully, researchers and scientists have uncovered thousands of viruses from viral families that contain zoonoses. However, it’s unsettling to know that millions of unknown viral species have yet to be discovered. There is still a polarizing debate over the origin of COVID-19. These are three common theories that describe how it started:
- It originated from animal-to-human transmission.
- It originated at the Huanan Seafood Market in Wuhan, China, where live animals are sold.
- It was somehow released from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.
Currently, the leading theory of COVID-19’s origins is the first, indicating that COVID-19 originated and began to spread due to a zoonotic spillover event.
Sustainability and the Prevention of Future Pandemics
Various environmental efforts can significantly reduce the risk of society experiencing a future pandemic. More companies are striving to achieve sustainability. For example, sustainable practices helped produce millions of gallons of pharmaceutical-grade water. This purified water helped develop and manufacture the COVID-19 vaccine, which proved highly effective in reducing the risk of someone developing the infection.
Despite some organizations stepping up to the plate to prioritize sustainability, more work must be done. This is especially true in industries that engage in harmful practices, like deforestation or forest degradation.
How Deforestation Puts Human Health at Risk
A growing amount of evidence suggests that a driving factor in a pandemic outbreak is the human action of changing land use. When people disrupt the rich biodiversity of an ecosystem through deforestation or other methods of habitat destruction, they open up new pathways for zoonotic diseases to spill over from wildlife to humans and livestock.
An example of this is the Ebola outbreak from 2014 to 2016. The BBC reported in 2014 that the first Ebola victim, a 2-year-old boy in Guinea, became infected after he was exposed to a colony of fruit bats living in a hollowed-out tree. Various media outlets reported on the origin of the 2014 Ebola outbreak, which caused over 11,000 deaths. For example, Vox published an article describing deforestation’s role in spreading the deadly disease.
The individual act of deforestation does not directly cause viruses to spread. However, it typically forces animals, some of which could be infected with a zoonotic disease, to migrate to other environments. They may travel to places that are close to humans. People who come into close contact with infected animals risk becoming infected and spreading it to others, causing an outbreak.
Reducing the Risk of Future Pandemics Through Sustainability Efforts
Significant efforts to achieve sustainability must be taken to prevent future pandemics. Major reductions in deforestation and forest degradation could potentially reduce the chances of pandemics occurring in the future.
Many people agree that sustainability should already be a top priority for companies worldwide. However, the major industries that serve as a foundation for the global economy often value profitability over eco-friendliness.
Unfortunately, change cannot occur until more organizations become aware of the implications of their unsustainable practices. The ultimate goal would be to stress the importance of sustainability and provide evidence to prove that deforestation and other harmful human activities can negatively impact public health.
See more posts from Jane Marsh at environment.co
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