The role of biodiversity in the One Health approach has been minimal – so far

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Among the many forms of disasters caused by humanity’s alteration of 75 percent of the world’s land surface, COVID-19 has been a heart-wrenching wake-up call for the new reality of deadly and economically devastating global pandemics and their consequences. inextricable links with the destruction of landscapes.

Yet scientists and doctors have long predicted such an outbreak – it was only a question of what the virus would be and when it would emerge. The prophetic approach to health that predicted this catastrophe is known as One Health, an area of ​​research that recognizes human, animal and ecological health as interdependent and seeks to approach them in a holistic way.

Ecological health was the last rung of the One Health tierce. To this end, the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF) designed a two-day digital event on the role of biodiversity in the One Health approach to strengthen the role of environmental science and ecology. The GLF is the world’s largest science and knowledge-based platform for sustainable land use, and as the foundation of the event, 15 white papers were created and published by a number of top organizations. of research in environmental sciences in the world to inform the policies and decision-makers and actors of animal and human health.

“Perhaps the One Health approach has been dominated in the past by the medical and veterinary professions,” said Keith Sumpton, veterinarian and head of the animal health program of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations. agriculture (FAO). “I agree that has to change. The One Health approach must involve and receive contributions from natural resource management professionals working in ecosystems, biodiversity and wildlife management.

Dennis Carroll, infectious disease expert and grandfather of the One Health movement, began the event by recalling the rise of the One Health approach in response to the Ebola H1N1 and avian flu epidemics over the past two decades. . “One Health, which was really the emerging paradigm, said we had to break down the barriers between the public health community, the animal health community, and the ecological health community… We really had to be smart and we had to evolve. with the kind of resilience and elasticity that viruses go through.

Illustration by Josie Ford

Although the One Health approach has existed in various forms since the late 1960s, it is still far from being mainstreamed in health sectors despite its powerful disease prevention promises. The Global Virome Project, a U.S. government-funded platform that operationalizes the One Health approach that Carroll now helps lead, estimated that with $ 4 billion, researchers could identify nearly any infectious disease.

Yet the most shocking part of COVID-19 for experts in the One Health community has been the failure of collective global political action in response, which Carroll attributes to the rise of nationalism and populism in recent years. “We have succeeded in building silos and barriers in a way that allows viruses and bacteria to exploit them to the fullest… but we have seen the scientific community act as a global community. We have seen their ability to share data, their ability to move forward in a historic way. “

The GLF event’s goal of cementing ecological science and the importance of biodiversity in the approach comes with urgency and rides the wave of the launch of the United Nations Decade for Ecosystem Restoration, a massive effort to achieve the health of the planet through the restoration of degraded ecosystems which will be officially launched next year. “Institutional, policy and government responses to land degradation are often reactive and fragmented and fail to address the root causes,” said Sir Robert Watson, Scientific Advisory Group Leader for the Global Assessments Synthesis Report of UNEP. “We need coordinated political agendas that simultaneously encourage more sustainable production and consumption. We must reduce and reverse the degradation. We need landscape-scale approaches that integrate agriculture, forestry, energy, water and infrastructure development programs.

“We are running out of time. This is the decisive decade for the future of humanity on earth.

In the wild meat

Seventy-five percent of emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic, which means they are transmitted to humans from other animals through direct or indirect contact. As land and natural habitats are degraded or converted for human use, the likelihood of such contact and disease transmission increases, known as disease “spillover”. .

One of the main causes of the spread of the disease is the consumption of contaminated wild meat. In this sense, an essential part of disease prevention through the One Health approach lies in the transformation of food systems. Agriculture was dealt with severely in a seminal report on biodiversity released in September by the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity. As its lead author David Cooper explained in a session at the event, the report found that agriculture covers 9 percent of all land, with just 29 percent of farms operating sustainably, and more than 27 percent of domestic animals are in danger of extinction, threatening food security. Implementing a One Health approach was one of the report’s main recommendations to curb biodiversity loss.

Illustration by Josie Ford

Laura Kahn, who co-founded the influential One Health Initiative in 2006, put forward two provocations: whether or not the consumption of wildlife is a basic human right, and whether the wildlife trade and markets for wildlife Live animals should be prohibited to stop other overflow events. For communities that depend on wild meat for their survival, hampering their food sources would be a violation of basic human rights, she said. But for populations where other sources of animal protein are available, especially in urban areas, the trade in wild meat must be curbed – a message echoed by experts throughout the day.

“The United States has the highest per capita meat consumption of any country in the world, and we are in no moral position to tell other countries what and what not to eat,” Kahn said. “But it is up to us to consider what we eat in order to preserve life on this planet.”

Down to the ground

The success of the One Health approach depends not only on research and collaboration of scientists in laboratories and universities, but also on working with local communities where the fallout is most likely to occur. In a white paper by the FAO, the Center de Recherche Forestière Internationale (CIFOR), the French Center for Agronomic Research for International Development (CIRAD) and the Wildlife Conservation Society, a number of community-based preventive measures are recommended for “Ensure the early detection and reporting of future zoonotic outbursts and disease epidemics at the human-wildlife-livestock interfaces. “

These preventive measures include training wild meat hunters and processors to minimize disease exposure, preserving meat in a way that makes potential pathogens harmless, and supporting regular health inspections along the supply chain. value of wild meat. It requires more resources and smoother scales of information, FAO’s Sumpton said. Surveillance of high risk areas should be developed by the community and the results should be brought to the attention of the national government; data must be reintroduced to inform local decisions; and government departments involved in One Health need to be integrated with each other.

Illustration by Josie Ford

Mark Plotkin, famous ethnobotanist and chairman of the Amazon Conservation Team (ACT), drew attention to the Brazilian Amazon, where COVID-19 has seen the death rate of indigenous peoples reach almost double that of the population. general, in large part due to the various impacts of the destruction of their landscapes through illegal logging, hydroelectric dam construction, animal husbandry and fires. While ACT delivered more than 35 tonnes of medical, health and emergency food items to indigenous peoples in Latin America during the pandemic, the preventive solution is to ensure their proper control over their traditional lands through methods on the market. terrain such as ethnographic land mapping. , as well as in legal forms, such as the employment of indigenous people as forest rangers and the establishment of protected areas. “The goal here is to create an agency, not an addiction… it’s to help people take control of their cultural and environmental destiny,” he said.

Protected areas are indeed more and more important in political agendas. The EU’s biodiversity strategy, for its part, aims to place 30 percent of European land in protected areas by 2030. However, David Wilkie, director of the Wildlife Conservation Society, urged for a more definition. wide protected areas: “ecological spaces where people take action individually or collectively to ensure the persistence of the parts of nature they value.” In addition to national parks and forests, this could include indigenous territories, community reserves, locally managed marine areas, private lands managed to conserve nature, and commercial logging concessions with biodiversity protection provisions.

“Conserving and restoring ecosystems can prevent further degradation and mitigate the conditions for the emergence of other infectious diseases,” said Elizabeth Mrema, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Convention on Biodiversity. “The One Health approach will not only promote sustainable health and fair recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic, but it will also serve broader health goals beyond freedom from disease. It will also strengthen the resilience of social, ecological and economic ecosystems.

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