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Baby borneo orangutan seen playing in conservation, West Java, Indonesia on July 2, 2019.

Baby borneo orangutan seen playing in conservation, West Java, Indonesia on July 2, 2019. The IUCN expects dozens of small orangutan populations to wink out of existence in the next few generations across Borneo, as obstacles such as roads or plantations isolate them in forest fragments. Without an infusion of new genetics and relief from the pressures of hunting and logging, orangutans could be one of these groups sliding toward oblivion.population. (Photo: Afriadi Hikmal / Barcroft Media via Getty Images)

Calling Covid-19 a Crisis of Humanity's Own Making, Coalition Says Healing 'Broken Relationship With Nature' Key to Stopping Next Pandemic

Unless preventative action is taken, there is "a high risk that we will make the same mistake again."

Andrea Germanos

As the World Health Organization stresses the need for continued measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus in the face of a global rise in cases, reporting out Tuesday spotlights a new coalition warning that another global pandemic will surely come barring investment in measures to address the root causes of zoonotic disease outbreaks.

"The Covid-19 vaccines will help rescue us from this current mess, but it won't do a thing to protect us from the next pandemic," Aaron Bernstein of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health told The Guardian.

"In truth, we knew that a pandemic was coming, but we as a global community still failed to take actions to prevent it or adequately prepare for it."
—Preventing Pandemics at the Source
"Only with actions that stop emerging infections where they start can we end our ill-fated game of Russian roulette with pathogens," he said.

Harvard Chan is part of the Preventing Pandemics at the Source coalition, which brings together a number of public health experts and environmental organizations. Other coalition partners include Harvard's Global Health Institute, EcoHealth Alliance, and Health in Harmony.

As The Guardian reported:

The coronavirus that causes Covid-19 is thought to have jumped from wild bats to humans and about two-thirds of diseases that infect humans start in other species, including the influenza, HIV, Zika, West Nile, and Ebola viruses. The increasing destruction of nature by farming, logging, and the wild animal trade has brought people and their livestock into closer contact with wildlife and led to a great increase in diseases crossing from animals to people in recent decades.

Simply put, the coronavirus crisis should come as no surprise; "it is something we helped create," the group says.

"In truth, we knew that a pandemic was coming, but we as a global community still failed to take actions to prevent it or adequately prepare for it," the coalition says on its website. "As a result, we are facing a worldwide health emergency of epic proportions along with a global economic crisis and massive human suffering."

The "broken relationship with nature" has made similar public heath crises, like MERS and Ebola, more frequent, and there is "a high risk that we will make the same mistake again."

The group points to research showing that "more than 335 emerging infectious disease outbreaks were reported worldwide from 1940 to 2004—over 50 per decade."

Humanity must seize this moment to undergo a transformation enabling a recognition of our intertwined relationship with nature to avoid another deadly and economically crippling pandemic, the coalition asserts. 

To effect that change, the coalition proposes three broad steps. Among them is the creation of a "Prevention at the Source Policy Taskforce," which the group bills as a transdisciplinary body that would craft and endorse a set of recommendations to "push for bold, creative, and actionable policies that will be truly successful in preventing spillover, while also being forward-thinking enough to anticipate and mitigate risks and unintended repercussions."

A "Global Action Fund for Pandemic Prevention" would further prevention by financing "a pipeline of existing prevention solutions" and a search for new solutions.

Rounding out the solution blueprint is a proposed global campaign to boost public knowledge about pandemic prevention.

"A mindset shift is needed in governments around the world so that prevention is seen as a top political priority, alongside health systems preparedness. Influencing public opinion on a topic is one of the most effective advocacy tools that can help achieve this shift," the group said. 

The coalition directed its focus last month to congressional leaders in the U.S.

In an open letter, the group called for "far more leadership and investment regarding pandemic prevention."

"If Covid-19 has made one thing clear, it is that the cost of even the boldest initiative to prevent future pandemics is orders of magnitude less than the price we pay once a pandemic occurs," they told lawmakers. 

As such, the coalition said that coronavirus relief funds should include "a significant level of new funds" for programs that help prevent pandemics at the source. Specific measures they detailed included the creation of  the proposed Global Fund for Pandemic Prevention, with an initial $2.5 billion commitment.

"'Building back better' also means enhancing global health security, which must include U.S. leadership and investments to prevent pandemics at the source," the group wrote.


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