63 Organizations Sign Letter to Biden, Protect Wildlife to Prevent Pandemics

Map: American Naturalist via NPR.org

By Amy Lupica, ODP Staff Writer

A coalition of 63 health, wildlife, and environmental organizations has written a letter urging the Biden administration to adopt policies to combat the increased threat of zoonotic disease spillover into human populations. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, experts say that human population expansion and increased interactions with wildlife, present increased chances for future pandemics as well. The letter states, “without decisive action to strengthen capacity at the front-lines of health and conservation, and to create new and reinforce and improve existing institutional capacity, billions of us are likely to be threatened by another and more dangerous pandemic.”  

Why This Matters: According to the World Health Organization, there are over 200 known zoonoses, diseases that have jumped from non-human animals to humans. Zoonoses have been responsible for many of the world’s mass outbreaks, including the Black Plague, Spanish Influenza, and now, Coronavirus. Human development into wildlife habitats increased meat production, and urbanization all are factors that increase human contact with wildlife and increase the chance of zoonotic spillover. If countries don’t limit destructive development and protect biodiversity, the next pandemic could happen sooner rather than later, and the world won’t be prepared.

A New Healthcare Plan

The chance of a zoonotic disease spilling over into a human population is increased in regions and occupations that have increased contact with animals. According to the WHO:

  • Agricultural workers working in farms with high levels of antibiotic use are more at risk of pathogens resistant to microbial drugs.
  • Markets selling meat or meat by-products are at high risk due to the number of individual animals they are exposed to.
  • People living in rural or semi-urban areas may be more at risk of encountering disease in wild animals like raccoons, foxes, and rats.

The letter cites policies the administration could adopt to “address the clear and compelling connections between human health and the role that our current mode of exploitation of nature plays in the spillover of zoonotic diseases and the rise of global pandemics.” The coalition calls for a “whole-of-government One Health approach” to future pandemic prevention. This would include the creation of new institutions that would work together to address the intersections of “biodiversity loss, wildlife trade (legal and illegal), deforestation and habitat degradation, industrialized agriculture, global health, and issues related to extreme poverty, including food insecurity, poor sanitation, limited access to basic services, and food safety and security.”

The letter also asks that the administration commit $2.5 billion in funding for community-devised plans that would promote conservation, healthcare, jobs training, and sustainable economic development alternatives.

Also, the letter provides a list of existed underfunded programs that could be crucial in the prevention of future pandemics. The coalition also calls for policy to combat poaching and trafficking, and to create a National Biodiversity Strategy alongside 84 other U.N. signatory nations.

The 30×30 Promise

The Biden administration has committed to protecting 30% of all U.S. lands and waters by 2030 and has signed several executive orders on climate action. But the cause and effect relationship between biodiversity loss and infectious disease isn’t always at the center of climate change discussions. But now, after the deaths of 500,000 Americans, health and biodiversity experts say it’s time to make zoonotic disease prevention a priority.

To Go Deeper:  Watch later today at 1:00 PM ET/10:00 AM PT as a panel of experts, including ODP’s very own Monica Medina, will sit down with The Hill to discuss how the U.S. is currently addressing these threats, what the administration is doing, and what elected leaders could be doing better to safeguard the biodiversity of our planet. Register here.  Watch the live stream here.

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