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New commission aims to prevent future pandemics

Even as the threat of animal-to-human diseases rises, governments seem to have deprioritized pandemics. Recognizing this trend, The Lancet and the Coalition for Preventing Pandemics at the Source (PPATS) are taking action by initiating a commission focused on the prevention of viral spillover.

The purpose of this commission, named the Lancet-Preventing Pandemics at the Source Commission on Prevention of Viral Spillover, is to dive deep into the policy, practice, research, and legal measures required to handle the looming threat of viral spillovers. 

This undertaking is groundbreaking in its scope and ambition, striving to cover an area that has been historically underfunded and understudied.

An alternative approach to pandemic prevention

“Most pandemic prevention efforts focus on containing a disease outbreak through personal protective equipment, vaccines, and other measures,” said Sonila Cook, co-founder of  PPATS and CEO of Dalberg Catalyst

“This Commission is instead focused on preventing disease outbreaks from occurring in the first place, which is far more equitable and cost-effective and brings many other benefits for people and our planet. Through the work of this Commission, we will be better positioned to prevent another crisis instead of merely reacting to it.”

Interdisciplinary collaboration and objectives

The Commission’s work hinges on interdisciplinary cooperation, bringing together experts from fields as diverse as health, ecology, veterinary science, and Indigenous knowledge. The end goal is a comprehensive report on how to prevent viral spillover, targeted for release in two to three years.

Existing research has already highlighted the key factors exacerbating pathogen spillovers: livestock practices, wildlife hunting and trade, deforestation, and the broader implications of climate change. 

Dr. Raina Plowright, a co-chair of the Commission, has underscored the gravity of the situation: “The basic origins of all the most recent epidemics are clear: They emanate from wildlife. And yet, spillover prevention is a topic that is poorly understood and largely unaddressed by major institutions working in public health.” 

“Our Commission will improve our understanding of disease threats. We need to shine a bright spotlight on this problem and then provide a strategy to solve it.”

The Commission aims to address the following objectives:

  • Evaluating the causes of viral spillovers.
  • Identifying prevention strategies.
  • Recommending research directions.
  • Assessing the equity and trade-offs involved in prevention.
  • Overcoming socio-economic and political challenges for implementation.

Global equity 

Highlighting the global nature of the problem, Dr. Latiffah Hassan – Commission Co-chair and a Professor with the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at the Universiti Putra Malaysia – argued that “many countries struggle to navigate the often-conflicting demands of generating economic development and maintaining an affordable supply of food for growing populations while safeguarding the health of rural populations.”

“It is these communities who face the greatest risk of emerging pandemic threats. Like every other part of our global society, they have a right to decent healthcare. Preventing spillover protects everyone everywhere.”

Strategies for preventing future pandemics

Potential strategies the Commission is considering include curbing deforestation, strengthening animal healthcare, managing wildlife trade, enhancing healthcare in proximity to wildlife, and intensifying zoonotic virus surveillance.

Economic implications and urgency

“Preventing pandemics is so much cheaper than responding to pandemics and will save countless lives. Remarkably, it seems like global leaders are already forgetting the terrible lessons we learned during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Commision co-chair Dr. Neil Vora, drawing attention to the cost disparity between prevention and response. 

“We urgently need dedicated resources to prevent pathogen spillovers, such as an international financing source dedicated to protecting tropical forests. The stakes are too high for the world to implement more incomplete solutions to pandemics. We need investment in both preventative measures to pandemics alongside response measures.”

As a concluding note, Dr. Nigel Sizer, a member of the commission and executive director of PPATS warns against complacency: “So many people are behaving as if the COVID-19 pandemic never happened — and in doing so, they fail to apply the lessons from COVID-19. This Commission will help protect everyone from pandemics by evaluating the science, designing interventions, and presenting policymakers with a roadmap to guide future actions.”

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