As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, a new report warns that further outbreaks will emerge unless governments take active measures to prevent other zoonotic diseases from crossing into the human population and sets out recommendations to prevent future pandemics. The report—Preventing the Next Pandemic: Zoonotic diseases and how to break the chain of transmission—was a joint effort by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).

It identifies seven trends driving the increasing emergence of zoonotic diseases, including increased demand for animal protein; a rise in intense and unsustainable farming; the increased use and exploitation of wildlife; and the climate crisis. The report finds that Africa—which has experienced and responded to several zoonotic epidemics, including, most recently, Ebola outbreaks—could be a source of important solutions to quell future outbreaks.

A “zoonotic disease” or “zoonosis” is a disease that has passed into the human population from an animal source. These diseases are on the rise everywhere on the planet, and the authors posit that African countries—many of which have successfully managed deadly zoonotic outbreaks—have the potential to leverage this experience to tackle future outbreaks through approaches that incorporate human, animal, and environmental health. The continent is home to a large portion of the world’s remaining intact rainforests and other wild lands. Africa is also home to the world’s fastest-growing human population, leading to an increase in encounters between livestock and wildlife and, in turn, the risk of zoonotic diseases.

“The situation on the continent today is ripe for intensifying existing zoonotic diseases and facilitating the emergence and spread of new ones,” said Jimmy Smith, ILRI director general, in a press release. “But with their experiences with Ebola and other emerging diseases, African countries are demonstrating proactive ways to manage disease outbreaks. They are applying, for example, novel risk-based rather than rule-based approaches to disease control, which are best suited to resource-poor settings, and they are joining up human, animal, and environment expertise in proactive One Health initiatives.”

The report’s authors identified the One Health approach, which unites public health, veterinary, and environmental expertise, as the optimal method for preventing as well as responding to zoonotic disease outbreaks and pandemics.

The authors also identified 10 steps that governments can take to prevent future zoonotic outbreaks. The measures include the following:

  • Strengthening monitoring and regulation practices associated with zoonotic diseases, including food systems.
  • Incentivizing sustainable land management practices and developing alternatives for food security and livelihoods that do not rely on the destruction of habitats and biodiversity.
  • Supporting the sustainable management of landscapes and seascapes that enhance sustainable co-existence of agriculture and wildlife.

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