does not emerge out of thin air; it has underlying causes. And most of the
underlying causes, if not all, are in front of our eyes; it’s just that we
refuse to see and act on them. The coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) crisis
is not a black swan; it was predicted and could have been prevented.
beginning of the 21st century, we have seen the emergence and outbreaks of
multiple zoonotic diseases – infectious diseases caused by bacteria and viruses
that jump from animals to humans. Some of them are new to humans, and hence we
do not have immunity against them and some re-emergence of old diseases.
Studies indicate that the frequency of these outbreaks has increased
significantly in the last 20 years.
We have had
three pandemics since 2000 – severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003,
H1N1 (swine flu) in 2009 and now Covid-19. SARS and Covid-19 spread from civet
cats/ pangolin and bats in China and swine flu from an intensive pig farm in
Mexico. In between, we have had regional outbreaks of bird flu from poultry,
the Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) from camels, Ebola from monkeys and
pigs, Rift Valley fever from livestock, West Nile fever from birds, Zika from
monkey and Nipah from bats.
cause of all the above diseases can be broadly put under three baskets. First,
environmental destruction. Due to deforestation and habitat loss, wild animals
and humans are now nearby, leading to the spill over of animal diseases into
humans. Ebola, West Nile virus, Nipah and Zika come under this category.
Similarly, livestock is also coming in contact with wildlife and transmitting
pathogens to people, like the Rift Valley virus.
cultural practices. The practice of eating exotic wildlife, sometimes raw, is
spreading novel pathogens to humans. Both SARS and Covid-19 have origin in the
wildlife markets in China. But the practice of eating wild animals is not
restricted to China; it exists in one form or another across the world.
intensive animal farms. The industrial farming of animals, by keeping animals
very close to each other and pumping them with growth promoters like antibiotics,
is another cause. Bird flu and swine flu both have their origin in intensive
causes are not hidden; they are widely known, and different countries have
legislation in place to control them. Many countries, including India, have strong
laws against deforestation and for curbing the trade and consumption of
wildlife. Countries have also put in place regulations to improve practices in
animal farms. But many have not acted on these issues. And, in a globalised
world, we are only as strong as the weakest link. Weak regulations and poor
implementation in one country have global ramifications. This is evident in the
case of Covid-19.
outbreak of SARS, it was widely recognised that the presence of a vast
reservoir of coronaviruses in horseshoe bats and civet cats, together with the
culture of eating exotic animals in China, is a time bomb. Under global
pressure, in 2003, China did ban the consumption of civet cats, but it was
poorly enforced. It was only in 2018 that China’s legislature passed nationwide
laws to ban the farming and consumption of wildlife. These laws are now being
rolled out in the wake of the Covid-19 epidemic. This is too late, and the
global community is paying the price of China’s inaction.
fact is, the next novel coronavirus can emerge due to negligence in any
country. The current social and economic practices around the world are just
too poor to stop the next pandemic. To manage and prevent the next pandemic,
the world needs to come together to address the underlying causes of zoonosis.
have killed millions of people in the 21st century (several times more than all
the wars and terrorist attacks put together). Their economic cost has ranged
from a few billion dollars in the case of regional outbreaks to several
trillion dollars for pandemics. They are not a national issue; they are global
and require a global response. Countries cannot hide behind sovereignty and not
act. The world, therefore, needs a universal code of conduct to address zoonoses
urgently. Nothing less will suffice.
Headline: Zoonotic diseases are rife this century: Globalised world requires
global code of conduct to overcome this threat
Source: The Times of India