COVID-19 has caused profound damage to human health, societies and economies in every corner of the world. This illness is zoonotic, a type of disease that transmits between animals and humans. It may be the worst, but it is not the first. We already know that 60 per cent of known infectious diseases in humans and 75 per cent of all emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic. Ebola, SARS, the Zika virus and bird flu all came to people by way of animals.
As we seek to build back better after COVID-19, we need to fully understand the transmission of zoonoses, the threats they pose to human health and how to minimize the risk of further devastating outbreaks. This requires an ambitious line of enquiry, in which this report, Preventing the next pandemic: Zoonotic diseases and how to break the chain of transmission, is a crucial first step.
The report—produced in partnership with universities, research institutions, UN agencies and the secretariats of several multilateral environmental agreements— identifies key anthropogenic drivers for the emergence of zoonoses, from agricultural intensification and increased demand for animal protein to the conversion of land and climate change. These drivers are destroying natural habitats and seeing humanity exploiting more species, which brings people into closer contact with disease vectors. Once established in humans, these diseases quickly spread across our interconnected world, as we have seen with COVID-19.