The Harvard-led Scientific Task Force to Prevent Pandemics at the Source presented its findings Monday at a virtual event featuring renowned primatologist Jane Goodall.
The event – co-hosted by Swedish Minister for International Development Cooperation Per Olsson Fridh and the Coalition to Prevent Pandemics at Source – was held in conjunction with this month’s meeting of the United Nations General Assembly.
Experts in global health, climate and policy discussed how to implement recommendations made last month by the Scientific Working Group to prevent pandemics at the source, such as preventing the spread of the agents. pathogens from animals to humans.
Aaron Bernstein – the acting director of the Center for Climate, Global Health and Environment at the Harvard School of Public Health and assistant professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School – convened the task force in May in the hope to move from pandemic preparedness to prevention.
At the event, he highlighted three key findings from the task force report: that pandemic prevention is possible, that we need to prevent pandemics at the source, and that costs are reduced when pandemics are avoided at the source. .
Bernstein said the first step to preventing the next pandemic is to prevent the overflow of pathogens.
“These viruses have all passed from wild animals to humans,” Bernstein said. “We need to focus on protecting their habitats, protecting their ecosystems, so as not to create interfaces that allow their pathogens to spread into humans. “
Goodall, a primatologist and anthropologist known for her studies of watching chimpanzees, said scientists warned of pandemics long before the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Scientists studying these zoonotic diseases have been warning us about the inevitability of pandemics, like Covid-19, for years,” she said. “Alas, we didn’t listen. Now we are paying the price.
Bernstein also explained how focusing only on preparedness reinforces inequalities, as richer countries tend to receive more vaccines and drugs than poorer countries, which are often the most vulnerable.
He added that the climate crisis is closely linked to the prevention and response to pandemics.
“Preparedness may help us lessen the blow to the next emerging infection, but it will do nothing to stop the uproar in the world living with the climate crisis, each of which contributes to the very risk of emerging infections that we are trying to combat. . ,” he said.
Bernstein’s presentation was followed by a panel discussion that highlighted the urgency and feasibility of developing pandemic prevention policies and allocating funds to initiatives that could help prevent fallout.
Helen E. Clark, former Prime Minister of New Zealand, said that for prevention to be high on the political agenda, the world needs effective leaders who “will listen to the evidence and act on it” and will work together to coordinate responses.
Yewande Alimi, program coordinator at the African Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and another member of Bernstein’s task force, said Covid-19 has exposed the links between human health and animal and environmental health, prompting governments to invest more in wildlife.
Although panelists discussed many strategies for preventing pandemics, Goodall wondered if the change would happen quickly enough.
“There are many models for change – we can move forward in a more ethical and sustainable direction,” Goodall said. “But will we have the will to act now, before it’s too late?” “
—Editor-in-Chief Ariel H. Kim can be contacted at [email protected]