This call was published in the French newspaper Le Monde on March 1st, during the One Forest Summit. The text recalls that more than three quarters of the world’s forests have been cleared or heavily degraded, and studies show that this leads to greater circulation of these pathogens, increasing the risk of infection in wildlife. Deforestation increases contact between human and animal populations, multiplying the opportunities for novel viruses to infect us, creating the perfect cocktail for the appearance of new zoonotic diseases that may preface pandemics.
COVID-19 has almost disappeared from the media. The pandemic is not over but the virus is becoming a normal part of our daily lives with crisis response in the rearview mirror. But the memory of the disaster, its colossal suffering, loss of life, and economic harm are still raw for many. Before it is forgotten, policy focus and resources must shift to prevent new pandemics as their risk continues to grow.
While COVID-19 was a surprise to many, this kind of pandemic was predicted by many scientists. Since the early 1980s, outbreaks of new infectious diseases have tripled compared to previous decades with the emergence of Ebola, Zika, Chikungunya, avian flu, Nipah, and new coronaviruses. Accelerating global connectivity adds further danger as outbreaks are more likely to reach all corners of the world within days of emergence before containment measures are triggered.
We should be better prepared in terms of management during the next emergence, provided we stay alert. The experience acquired with containment, accelerated vaccine and therapeutics development, risk communication, modeling and decision support, is invaluable.
Thousands of unidentified viruses
We should be better prepared for the next emergences, though the slow and confused response to the recent spread of Mpox (the new name for “monkeypox") does not bode well. However, it is between crises that we must act to prevent future pandemics.
Hundreds of thousands of still unidentified viruses could infect humans. It is extremely hard to be prepared to combat these unknown, vastly diverse and numerous adversaries. It is therefore crucial to combine the traditional "preparedness approach" with far more effort on a "prevention approach." The opportunity and innovation we bring forth lies in addressing the origins of these viruses.
To prevent future emergences, it is necessary to understand the characteristics of emerging pathogens as well as the factors driving their increasing rate of emergence. Most importantly, 75 percent of new infectious diseases are zoonoses, caused by viruses, bacteria or parasites that are transmitted from animals to humans. Ebola virus disease, Lyme disease, pandemic flu, and HIV/AIDS: all these diseases are pathogens with animal origins.
Human activities, in particular deforestation, have a considerable impact on ecosystems and profoundly modify the transmission networks of many pathogens between animal species. More than three quarters of the world’s forests have been cleared or heavily degraded, and studies show that this leads to greater circulation of these pathogens, increasing the risk of infection in wildlife.
Animal, collateral victims
Deforestation increases contact between human and animal populations, multiplying the opportunities for novel viruses to infect us, creating the perfect cocktail for the appearance of new zoonotic diseases that may preface pandemics. To be clear, non-human species, are not to blame for the emergence of these diseases. They are instead collateral victims.
Sustainable management of ecosystems, in particular tropical forests, not only helps to address biodiversity loss and climate change, it also protects our health and prevents future pandemics. The cost of investment in this and other "primary" prevention strategies, such as reducing wildlife trade and improving biosafety in animal agriculture, which address upstream causes of these emergences, is around only one percent of the economic losses of pandemics such as COVID-19.
This is why we, signatories of this open letter, ask that:
- Governments and donors expand cooperation to develop improved solutions and support for sustainable forest management and global health. These solutions must build on local legitimacy and credibility, to ensure their consistency, effectiveness, and sustainability.
- Evaluation of decisions about the impacts of human activities on forests should include consideration of the services rendered by these ecosystems, including the prevention of the emergence of zoonotic diseases.
- Greater recognition and support for the critical role that local communities play in protecting forests and other ecosystems.
- Creation of new financing partnerships that support and reward forest conservation, with far more money flowing towards countries who are hosting these forests. The positive conservation partnerships (PCP), supported by the framework of the High ambition Coalition for Nature and Humans co-presided by France and Costa Rica, in agreement with the Kunming-Montreal global biodiversity framework, should consider the co-benefits of conservation for public health, following a One Health approach.
By taking these steps to embrace the importance of protecting and stewarding nature we can help reduce the risk of future pandemics.
- Franck Berthe, Senior Health Specialist, One Health Lead, The Pandemic Fund, France
- Serge Breysse, Chairman, Solthis, France
- Salome Bukachi, Anthropologist, Kenya
- Andrea Chaves, Professor, University of Costa Rica,
- Christine Citti, Research Director (INRAE), member of the secretariat of PREZODE, France
- Elisabeth Claverie de Saint Martin, Chairwoman, (CIRAD), France
- Sonila Cook, Chairwoman, Dalberg catalyst, USA
- Magda Robalo Correia Silva, President of IGHD, former Health Minister of Guinea Bissau,
- Pham Duc Phuc, One Health coordinator, Hanoi University, Vietnam
- Jane Goodall, Founder - the Jane Goodall Institute & United Nations Messenger of Peace, UK
- Runa Khan, Founder and director of Friendship, Bangladesh
- Samuel Le Bihan, actor, France
- Thierry Lefrançois, Director of BIOS department, CIRAD), member of COVARS, member of the secretariat of PREZODE, France
- Gael Mangaga, Research director in Centre international de recherche médical de Franceville, Gabon
- Wanda Markotter, Centre for zoonoses, University of Pretoria, South Africa
- Yves Martin-Prevel, Director of the Health and Society department, IRD, member of the secretariat of PREZODE, France
- Philippe Mauguin, Chairman of INRAe, France
- Thomas C. Mettenleiter, President, Friedrich-Loeffler-Institut, Germany
- Benoit Miribel, Secretary General of Fondation une santé durable pour tous, France
- Serge Morand, Research Director, CNRS, France
- Marisa Peyre, Deputy director, ASTRE, CIRAD, member of the secretariat of PREZODE, France
- Richard Powers, Writer, 2019 Pulitzer winner (The Overstory), Emeritus Professor at de Illinois University, USA
- Benjamin Roche, One Health Research Director, (IRD), member of the secretariat of PREZODE, France
- Wes Sechrest, Chairman of Re: wild NGO, USA
- Nigel Sizer, Executive Director, Preventing Pandemics at the Source, USA
- Jean-François Soussana, vice-president, INRAe, member of the secretariat of PREZODE, France
- Gerardo Suzan, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México
- Valerie Verdier, Chairwoman, IRD, France
- Neil Vora, Prevention fellow Conservation International, USA
Op-ed available at: https://www.lemonde.fr/idees/article/2023/03/01/une-gestion-innovante-des-forets-tropicales-est-necessaire-pour-mieux-prevenir-les-prochaines-pandemies_6163734_3232.html#xtor=AL-32280270-%5Bwhatsapp%5D-%5Bios%5D