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Hong Kong -- As the world grapples with the worst global public health emergency in recent memory, more than 100 scientists and conservation leaders from 25 countries are calling on governments across the globe to address high-risk wildlife trade to reduce the chance of another outbreak.
In a joint letter to decision-makers, the experts note that COVID-19 is a zoonotic virus, meaning it was transferred from animals to humans, and that there is a real risk of future pandemics if no action is taken to reduce high-risk wildlife trade -- especially in certain species of mammals and birds, which are more likely to host pathogens that can be transmitted to humans. High-risk situations where many animals, domestic and wild, dead and alive, from a variety of geographies, come into close proximity with one another and people in potentially unhygienic conditions pose a very high risk for disease spillover. These areas include markets, storage warehouses and transport hubs in densely populated areas.
More than 100 experts across nations, sectors, scientific disciplines and civil society agree that policy makers must take the following steps to reduce the chances of another pandemic:
Shut down high-risk wildlife markets, with a priority focus on those in high-density urban areas
Urgently scale up efforts to combat wildlife trafficking and halt trade of high-risk taxa
Strengthen efforts to reduce consumer demand for high-risk wildlife products
The letter brings together leaders in the fields of conservation, public health and zoonotic disease as part of the growing One Health movement that recognizes how our health is closely connected to the health of animals and our shared environment. Signatories include globally recognized One Health experts from the EcoHealth Alliance, the University of California-Davis, the Southeast Asia One Health University Alliance and Cornell University; the minister of health of Bhutan; a former secretary-general of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES); and leaders from the National Wildlife Federation, Wildlife Justice Commission and World Wildlife Fund (WWF).
The letter can be found in multiple languages on the website www.PreventPandemics.org, and additional experts are invited to sign it through the website.
Marco Lambertini, Director General of WWF International, said: “The recent COVID19 pandemic is yet another manifestation of our dangerously unbalanced relationship with nature. Looking at the root causes of previous pandemics that originated from animals, we knew that it wasn’t IF a new pandemic would emerge, but WHEN. To prevent future pandemics, trade and consumption of high-risk wildlife must be eliminated, and deforestation and environmental degradation leading to an unbalanced human/wildlife interaction tackled decisively. In recovering from the crisis, we must embrace a just and green transition towards an economic model that values nature as the foundation for a healthy society and a thriving economy -- protecting nature and its amazing diversity of life is protecting ourselves."
Hon. Keith Martin MD, PC and Executive Director, Consortium of Universities for Global Health, Washington, DC, said: "We all need to speak out and engage elected officials to implement policies that will reduce demand for, and the trafficking in, endangered species; close those wildlife markets that have been identified to be high-risk conduits for disease transmission; and bolster the Global Health Security Agenda, which will strengthen the international community's capacity to prevent, detect and respond to disease outbreaks. Epidemics do not recognize borders, and neither can our response. Our health and safety depend on it.”
Steve Osofsky, the Jay Hyman Professor of Wildlife Health & Health Policy at Cornell University’s College of Veterinary Medicine, said of high-risk wildlife markets: “If you’re a virus whose ‘goal’ is to spread, you couldn’t really design a better system to aid and abet a pandemic, particularly in dense urban centers. You have species that simply never would have run into each other under natural conditions, all packed together, bodily fluids mixing, and then people come into the equation. Pathogens are meeting species that they’ve never met before, creating perfect opportunities for viral jumps— including ones that lead to humans and can create the type of situation we’re all in now.”
Note to Editors:
1 - The Cornell Wildlife Health Center defines One Health as a multidisciplinary approach focused on problem-solving at the wildlife/domestic animal/human health and livelihoods interface, underpinned by a foundation of environmental stewardship.
High-risk wildlife markets:
High-risk wildlife markets are locations with a high probability of viral pathogen spillover from wildlife to humans and subsequent transmission among humans. They include outlets selling and mixing volumes of live or dead wildlife often from broad geographic regions, belonging to high-risk taxa for viral pathogen spillovers and visited by large numbers of humans.
High-risk wildlife species may include a broad range of taxa. Information on pathogen prevalence in wildlife, the reporting of spillover events, and disease surveillance among humans is not yet comprehensive. Provisionally this includes all bird and mammal species, sourced legally or illegally from the wild/nature, captive-bred, or farmed (except those that are considered as ‘livestock’ under animal husbandry law, subject to intensive veterinary management with stock that is reliably documented as not supplemented by wild-sourced supplies).