“As long as humans make animals suffer, we will suffer too”

A mink at a farm in Greece, November 14, 2020, photo: Reuters/Alexandros Avramidis
A mink at a farm in Greece, November 14, 2020, photo: Reuters/Alexandros Avramidis

A team of experts will research how zoonotic diseases emerge and spread, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced Thursday. 

Three-quarters of all emerging infectious diseases originate in animals. Humans put themselves in positions where diseases can jump from animals to people by trading in animals or stealing their living space.

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, which was sparked by a virus that likely originated in animals, the WHO created the One Health High-Level Expert Panel.

The team of experts are part of the One Health approach that recognizing the interconnection between people, animals, plants, and their shared environment. 

They will research long-term global action plans to stop outbreaks of diseases like bird flu, Ebola, Zika and COVID-19. 

The panel will look at the impact of human activity on the environment and wildlife habitats: human activities that lead to biodiversity loss and climate change.

“Human health does not exist in a vacuum, and nor can our efforts to protect and promote it,” WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. 

“The close links between human, animal and environmental health demand close collaboration, communication and coordination between the relevant sectors,” he added.

“Nobody is safe until everybody is safe”
France and Germany are also part of starting the One Health High-Level Expert Panel. “COVID-19 has painfully reminded us that the health of humans, animals and the environment around the world is closely connected,” Heiko Maas, German Minister for Foreign Affairs, said.

“Nobody is safe until everybody is safe. This is what we have to bear in mind to prevent future pandemics,” he added.

United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) chief Inger Andersen said that if the world wanted to “end the three planetary crises of climate change, of biodiversity loss and pollution, which threaten our peace and prosperity, we have to understand that human and animal and planetary health are one and the same.”

One Welfare instead of One Health
The animal welfare organization Four Paws is concerned that decision-makers do not consider animal welfare as an essential part of pandemic prevention. 

The One Health approach is limited to the interrelationship between the health of humans, animals, and the environment rather than also addressing their wellbeing. 

As a result, Four Paws calls on governments to go beyond that concept and adopt the One Welfare framework.

One Welfare recognizes the interrelationship between human wellbeing, animal welfare and nature. An imbalance in that relationship is often the origin of zoonotic disease outbreaks.

“As long as humans make animals suffer, we will suffer too – it is as simple as that,” Nina Jamal, campaign manager for pandemics at Four Paws, said in an online statement.

“Preventing future pandemics must mean tackling the root causes. Concrete measures include a ban on live animal markets and fur farms as well as an end to the commercial wildlife trade, factory farms and the dog and cat meat trade,” Jamal added. 

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