Scientists link outbreaks such as Covid-19 to biodiversity loss
The rise in zoonotic diseases like the coronavirus disease is linked to the loss of biodiversity and forests, public health experts and scientists have said. Zoonotic diseases are those that spread from animals to humans.
There is a consensus among scientists that a rise in zoonotic diseases--Nipah, Ebola, Zika, Coronavirus to name a few in recent decades – is driven by biodiversity loss and climate change.
In a press briefing held in New York by the Global Alliance of Indigenous Peoples on Friday, indigenous leaders said the Covid 19 outbreak was a result of loss of native forests and habitat.
“The coronavirus is now telling the world what we have been saying for thousands of years—that if we do not help protect biodiversity and nature, then we will face this and worse future threats,” said Levi Sucre Romero, a BriBri indigenous person from Costa Rica who is the Coordinator of the Mesoamerican Alliance of Peoples and Forests.
Scientific studies have already flagged this link. The Intergovernmental Science Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (similar to Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) in their report last year said that these diseases are significant threats to human health, with vector-borne diseases accounting for approximately 17 % of all infectious diseases and causing an estimated 700,000 deaths globally per year. “Emerging infectious diseases in wildlife, domestic animals, plants or people can be exacerbated by human activities such as land clearing and habitat fragmentation,” the report said. It also highlighted that around 25% of species in the animal and plant groups were under threat, suggesting that around one million species are already facing extinction.
The World Health Organization has said there is now evidence of the link between the Covid-19 and other similar known coronaviruses (CoV) circulating in bats. But the route of transmission to humans is still unclear.
“There is no doubt that zoonotic diseases are on the rise. One of the reasons for their rise, among many others, is that animals are coming in contact with human habitation...,” said Dr Shobha Broor, former head of department of microbiology at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS).
“Many mammals, like bats and rodents, harbour viruses and bacteria that can spillover from wildlife populations into humans. Sometimes these spillover events can cause outbreaks, like the one we are experiencing now...,” said Uma Ramakrishnan, Associate Professor, Senior Fellow, Wellcome Trust, National Centre for Biological Sciences.