How to prevent pandemics at the source

Monkeypox spread highlights need to take all necessary steps to prevent zoonotic spillover of viruses

Traffickers shoot primate mothers, who are used for meat while their baby is sold as a pet. ©Musuk Nolte - WCS Peru

The Executive Director of Preventing Pandemics at the Source (PPATS), Dr. Nigel Sizer, released the following statement last week as monkeypox spreads worldwide and the Seventy-fifth World Health Assembly met in Geneva, Switzerland —the first in-person Health Assembly since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Over a dozen countries are reporting a growing number of cases of monkeypox among people who have not recently been in the African countries where it is considered endemic. Monkeypox has been known for over 40 years as a zoonotic disease transmitted from wild animals to humans in forested areas primarily in West and Central Africa. Human-to-human transmission of monkeypox virus is also possible.

While experts are still determining the exact origins and circumstances that led to the current monkeypox outbreak, we see, once again, the importance of implementing all necessary actions to reduce the risk of spillover of viruses from animals to humans.

Such actions include shutting down or strictly regulating wildlife trade and markets, stopping deforestation and forest degradation, and providing better health to communities in emerging infectious disease hotspots, as well as strengthened veterinary care and biosecurity in animal husbandry.

As the World Health Assembly convenes this week in Geneva with member governments from all over the world, we urge the body to give far greater attention to stopping pandemics at their source. Such steps are the most cost effective and equitable to protect everyone everywhere from infectious diseases of animal origin.”

Experts from the PPATS coalition added the following comments:

Dr. Jon Epstein, Vice President for Science and Outreach with Ecohealth Alliance, and an expert in viral disease ecology:

“The current monkeypox virus outbreak reminds us that spillover of zoonotic viruses is an ongoing occurrence, driven by our increasingly frequent contact with wild animals, and we can’t afford to take our eye off the ball when it comes to prevention. There are and will continue to be zoonotic viruses knocking on the door, and, given how devastating pandemics like COVID-19 have been, our best strategy is to reduce the activities that lead to outbreaks, including deforestation, intensive livestock production and wildlife trade.”

Dr. Sue Lieberman, Vice President, International Policy, Wildlife Conservation Society:

“Whether it’s monkeypox, or the next coronavirus, governments must take all necessary actions both nationally and globally to truly prevent pathogen spillover from wildlife, to prevent epidemics or pandemics of zoonotic origin; they must not sit idly by and wait for the next global pandemic.”

Julie Larsen Maher - Aerial view of deforested landscape, terraced farming and fields Makira Masoala

Neil Vora, MD, policy fellow at Conservation International, who previously worked for the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), including its Poxvirus and Rabies Branch, where he led an investigation of a newly discovered poxvirus related to the monkeypox and smallpox viruses:

“Most emerging infectious diseases in humans originate from spillover of pathogens from animals. While we don’t know the exact origins of the current monkeypox outbreak, prior ones have been linked to spillover events. This underscores the importance of investing in actions to reduce the risk of spillover, such as stopping the clearing of tropical forests. By helping to prevent outbreaks before they even start, such actions would contribute to health equity.”

Dr. Chris Walzer, Executive Director, Health, Wildlife Conservation Society:

"This multi-country outbreak again highlights that in our globally hyper-connected world of 2022, infectious disease agents rapidly move to all continents - today, no spot is so remote that its pandemic potential can be ignored."

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