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Investing in nature is needed to avoid the next pandemic

As the entire world desperately struggles to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, a newly established International Scientific Task Force has released a report that provides recommendations for avoiding future pandemics. 

The international team of experts from the United States, Latin America, South Asia, and Africa says that more sustained investments in nature, such as protecting forests and changing agricultural practices. are essential for preventing future spillovers of pathogens from animals to humans. These conservation actions should be combined with a global effort of strengthening healthcare systems.

Some of the main causes of the emergence of zoonotic diseases with pandemic potential include livestock operations, wildlife hunting and trade, the destruction of tropical forests, the expansion of agricultural lands, rapid urbanization, and climate change. An integrated approach investigating ways to control these risk factors is urgently needed, argued scientists such as Dr. Aaron Bernstein, the leader of the new task force and interim director of the Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment at Harvard T.C. Chan School of Public Health

“COVID-19 was a warning shot from the whole of nature to our species,” said Dr. Bernstein. “We need more precise and affective interventions to prevent spillover, and to get there, we need greater investment in science and actions that prevent disease emergence. What we’ve learned is that our salvation comes cheap. The costs of these actions are a fraction of the cost of managing a pandemic once it emerges.”

Previous research conducted by Dr. Bernstein and colleagues estimated the annual costs of preventing future pandemics by reducing deforestation and regulating wildlife hunting and trade to be as little as $22 billion a year, which is less than two percent of the costs of responding to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Beyond increasing control of these potential causes, the task force also asked for more in-depth research about where pandemics are more likely to emerge due to factors such as governance, travel patterns, or population density, and for more sustained investigations of the diversity of wildlife pathogens that could cause zoonotic diseases.

The findings from the task force’s inaugural report will soon be translated into international policy recommendations at the G20 summit from October 2021 and the 26th United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26) from November 2021.  

By Andrei Ionescu, Staff Writer

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