IPBES news report about pandemics finds current approaches are deeply flawed

The IPBES news report about pandemic prevention from October 2020 shows that current approaches respond to diseases after their emergence.

COVID-19 pandemic ward showing doctors in PPE

The main objective of the IPBES is to strengthen the interface between science and policy on biodiversity and ecosystem services. The IPBES published the news report about pandemic prevention in October 2020.

The IPBES workshop and news report about pandemic prevention

The IPBES held a virtual workshop in July 2020. Twenty-two worldwide experts convened to review the scientific evidence on the origin, emergence and impact of COVID-19 and other pandemics. They also looked at practical methods for controlling and preventing pandemics that could be useful for IPBES users and stakeholders. The IPBES Pandemics Report was the product of this workshop. 

Findings from the news report about pandemic prevention

Pandemics are an existential threat to people’s health and welfare across the globe. The IPBES finds scientific evidence that pandemics are becoming more frequent. More than five new diseases emerge in people every year. Any of these could spread and reach pandemic levels.

Findings in the report show that 70 per cent of emerging diseases and almost all known pandemics are zoonoses. This means they were caused by microbes in animal hosts. They spread to humans through increased contact among wildlife, livestock and human populations. There are an estimated 1.7 million undiscovered viruses currently living in mammals and birds. It is thought that 631,000 to 827,000 of these could infect humans. 

Some of the same drivers of climate change are also responsible for disease emergence. For instance, the unsustainable exploitation of the environment through land-use changes, agricultural expansion and urbanisation all disrupt natural wildlife behaviour and lead to biodiversity loss. This increases contact between animals, people and wildlife, raising the likelihood that their pathogens will spread between different hosts. 

Learnings from COVID-19

The report’s authors demonstrate that we need preventative strategies to stop pandemics from emerging more often, spreading more rapidly, killing more people and affecting the global economy more devastatingly than COVID-19 has.

Part of the problem is that current approaches rely upon responding to diseases after their emergence with public health measures and other solutions. But, COVID-19 shows that this is a flawed approach. It meant that an unnecessary number of people died, were unwell and lost their livelihoods whilst waiting for a vaccine.

Pandemics such as COVID-19 affect both developing and developed countries, highlighting the global benefit of better preventative methods. Outbreaks of disease impact all countries due to globalisation. However, worldwide inequalities in health, wellbeing and security mean that the effect varies between states. For example, mortality and morbidity from COVID-19 may be higher in developing countries due to economic shortcomings restricting healthcare access. Nevertheless, economically advanced countries in Europe and North America have also suffered drastic consequences from the virus. 

Report recommendations 

The news report about pandemics emphasises the need for transformative change, using scientific evidence to support policy options to prevent pandemics. They may appear expensive and difficult to execute. But, in comparison with the trillions of dollars the COVID-19 pandemic has cost, they are the more economical option. Moreover, these policies benefit health, biodiversity conservation, economies and sustainable development. They are the best solution to the current ‘Pandemic Era’ we have created for ourselves.