Member Spotlight: Preventing Pandemics at The Source

Pandemic preparedness and response efforts alone will not prevent the next pandemic

By Lina Dieudonné, Program Associate for Preventing Pandemics at the Source

COVID-19 has devastated our global community. And do you know what the worst part is? It is likely to happen again, and soon. While the world is rightly focused on developing and distributing COVID-19 vaccines and therapeutics, managing the economic fallout, and bolstering preparedness and response efforts against future pandemics, the rate of zoonotic disease outbreaks has been increasing steadily as we continue to encroach upon the natural world. It is only a matter of time before we experience another COVID-19.

But we can significantly reduce the risk of this happening – if we address the origin of all viral pandemics over the last century: pathogen spillover from animals, particularly wildlife, into people. That is what Preventing Pandemics at the Source is focused on. We are a coalition of leading conservation, public health, human rights, science, health justice and Indigenous Rights organizations working to prevent the spillover of zoonotic pathogens – well before they can become global pandemics, regional or national epidemics, or even localized outbreaks.

There are cost-effective actions that can steeply reduce the risk of pathogen spillover. Peer-reviewed research highlights that an annual global investment of $20 billion would be sufficient to implement these actions at scale – just 3% of the annualized cost of new zoonotic pathogens. In other words, spending only five cents on the dollar can help prevent pandemics before they start, instead of paying trillions to contain them after they have emerged. These actions include shutting down or strictly regulating commercial wildlife trade and markets that pose public health risks, protecting tropical forests, providing healthcare and livelihood alternatives to communities in spillover hotspots, improving biosecurity in livestock management, and enhancing zoonotic virus surveillance.

Spillover prevention is not only economically sound but also more equitable. Plans focused solely on preparedness and response send the message that global responsibility begins and ends with stopping the spread of disease. This implies that we are comfortable with communities in spillover hotspots, who are generally the least able to cope with outbreaks, getting sick as long as it doesn’t spread to other communities. Investments in interventions to achieve true pandemic prevention ensure everybody is equally protected from the consequences of a new disease. It also has substantial co-benefits as many of these interventions contribute to mitigating climate change and biodiversity loss. 

Spillover prevention requires dialogue and coordinated action between sectors – particularly health and environment, but also agriculture, trade, food and nutrition, and others – that are currently not accustomed to talking to one another, let alone working together. We urge you, fellow members of the Global Health community, to encourage collaboration between these sectors. We urge you to ensure that pathogen spillover prevention is prioritized alongside pandemic preparedness and response in relevant global efforts such as the WHA international instrument and the global health security fund currently under negotiation. 

By acting together across silos, we have the power to stop pandemics before they start. 

Preventing Pandemics at the Source is a coalition of leading conservation, public health, human rights, science, health justice and Indigenous Rights organizations working to prevent future pandemics of zoonotic origin through policy and institutional reform and by mobilizing the funding needed to implement spillover prevention at scale.

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