Ebola, SARS, Zika, HIV/AIDS, West Nile fever and now COVID-19. These are some of the highest-profile diseases to emerge in the last several decades. And while they emerged in different parts of the world, they have one thing in common. They are what scientists call “zoonotic diseases,” infections that jump between animals and humans, some of which leave illness and death in their wake.
Now, a scientific assessment from the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) finds that unless countries take dramatic steps to curb zoonotic contagions, global outbreaks like COVID-19 will become more common.
“People look back to the influenza pandemic of 1918–1919 and think that such disease outbreaks only happen once in a century,” says Maarten Kappelle, the head of scientific assessments at UNEP. “But that’s no longer true. If we don’t restore the balance between the natural world and the human one, these outbreaks will become increasingly prevalent.”
The assessment, Preventing the next pandemic: Zoonotic diseases and how to break the chain of transmission, published on 6 July, describes how 60 per cent of the 1,400 microbes known to infect humans originated in animals.
While emerging contagions like COVID-19 dominate headlines, neglected zoonotic diseases kill at least 2 million people every year, mostly in developing countries. That is more than four times the current reported death toll of COVID-19.
Zoonotic diseases have plagued societies since Neolithic times and were responsible for some of history’s deadliest pandemics, including the bubonic plague of the late Middle Ages and the influenza pandemic of the early twentieth century.
But as the world’s population edges towards 8 billion, rampant development is putting humans and animals in increasingly close quarters, making it easier for diseases to vault between species.
“As we exploit more marginal areas, we are creating opportunities for transmission,” says Eric Fèvre, a professor of veterinary infectious diseases at the University of Liverpool and a jointly appointed ILRI researcher. “There is an increasing risk of seeing bigger epidemics and, eventually, a pandemic of the COVID-19 type as our footprint on the world expands.”
The cost of zoonotic epidemics is steep. The International Monetary Fund has predicted that COVID-19 alone will cause the global economy to contract by 3 per cent this year, wiping out $9 trillion in productivity through 2021. But even in the two decades before the pandemic, the World Bank estimated that zoonotic diseases had direct costs of more than $100 billion.
To prevent future outbreaks, countries need a coordinated, science-backed response to emerging zoonotic diseases, says Delia Grace, lead author of the report as well as a veterinary epidemiologist at ILRI and professor of food safety at the UK’s Natural Resources Institute. “Viruses don’t need a passport. You cannot tackle these issues on a nation-by-nation basis. We must integrate our responses for human health, animal health, and ecosystem health to be effective.”
UNEP and ILRI are urging governments to embrace an inter-sectoral and interdisciplinary approach called One Health. It calls on states not only to buttress their animal as well as human healthcare systems, but also to address factors – like environmental degradation and increased demand for meat –that make it easier for diseases to jump species. Specifically, it encourages states to promote sustainable agriculture, strengthen food safety standards, monitor and help improve traditional food markets, invest in technology to track outbreaks, and provide new job opportunities for people who trade in wildlife.
Robinson says it’s also important for governments to better understand how zoonotic diseases work. That could help the world avoid another pandemic on the scale of COVID-19.
“Getting ahead of the game and preventing the type of global shutdown we’ve seen—that’s what investing in zoonotic research will get you,” she says. “Outbreaks will happen. Pathogenic organisms will jump from animals to humans, and back to animals again. The question is: How far will they jump and what impact will they have?”
FAST FACTS ON ZOONOTIC DISEASES
- Zoonotic diseases (also known as zoonoses) are illnesses caused by pathogens that spread from animals to people and from people to animals.
- Examples of zoonoses include HIV-AIDS, Ebola, Lyme disease, malaria, rabies and West Nile fever, in addition to the disease cause by the novel coronavirus 2019, COVID-19.
- Certain wild animals (including rodents, bats, carnivores and non-human primates) are most likely to harbour zoonotic pathogens, with livestock often serving as a bridge for transmission of the pathogens from their wildlife reservoir to their new human host.
- In the world’s poorer countries, neglected endemic zoonoses associated with livestock production cause more than 2 million human deaths a year.
Recession Deepens as COVID-19 Pandemic Threatens Jobs and Poverty Reduction in Western Balkans
The COVID-19 pandemic has plunged the Western Balkans region into a deep recession, with drops in both domestic and foreign demand, coupled with disruptions in supply chains, forcing all six countries in the region into negative growth territory for 2020. According to the World Bank’s latest Regular Economic Report (RER), economic growth is forecast to contract by 4.8 percent in 2020, 1.7 percentage points lower than forecast in April. A second, stronger wave of the pandemic since mid-June is delaying economic recovery in the region. Travel restrictions and social distancing measures have also depressed growth in those countries more reliant on tourism.
The pandemic is further challenging labor markets in the region and threatening to undermine the progress that countries have made on improving the population’s welfare. By June, unemployment in the region had risen by a half of a percentage point, erasing 139,000 jobs. An additional 300,000 people are estimated to have fallen into poverty in Albania, Kosovo, Montenegro, and Serbia – a significant number, but less than half of the total that would have fallen into poverty had response measures not been put in place, notes the report.
“Like in much of the rest of the world, the COVID-19 pandemic is continuing to hit people hard in the Western Balkans, threatening threatening the health and economic well-being of people in all six countries,” says Linda Van Gelder, World Bank Country Director for the Western Balkans.
“As bad as this situation is, it would have been much worse had governments not taken swift measures from the outset of the crisis. The first priority remains getting the health crisis under control and limiting the economic damage. Policymakers in the region will then need to focus on strengthening their economic fundamentals for a resilient recovery.”
According to the report, all six countries in the region were quick to introduce policies to protect lives and livelihoods. The introduction of large job-retention schemes, including employee subsidies, helped arrest some of the worst impacts of the pandemic on employment, while social assistance programs, such as cash transfers, helped protect the most vulnerable populations in the region in the face of lockdowns and other restrictions.
Despite these measures, however, the gains in labor force participation made in the region over the last few years have now been erased and progress on poverty reduction is being imperiled by the crisis. Compounding these challenges are soaring fiscal deficits in the region, as governments continue to spend more to counter the economic contractions in the face of plummeting revenues. With the end of the economic crisis uncertain, pressure on labor markets and incomes is likely to continue for some months.
“Apart from improved health systems and robust social protection mechanisms, policymakers in the region will need to take measures to enhance human capital, build stronger institutions and strengthen the rule of law. The unfortunate situation of needing to spend more in a time of declining revenues puts additional pressure on governments in the region to prioritize fiscal sustainability, including through improving public spending and strengthening tax compliance,” says Linda Van Gelder.
The report acknowledges that the speed of recovery, in the short term, will depend on how the pandemic evolves, the availability of a vaccine that allows for the normalization of economic activity, and a sustained recovery for the region’s main trading partner – the European Union (EU).
Collapsing consumer demand amid lockdowns cripple Asia-Pacific garment industry
The COVID-19 pandemic has triggered government lockdowns, collapsed consumer demand, and disrupted imports of raw materials, battering the Asia Pacific garment industry especially hard, according to a new report released on Wednesday by the International Labour Organization (ILO).
The UN labour agency highlighted that in the first half of 2020, Asian imports had dropped by up to 70 per cent.
Moreover, as of September, almost half of all garment supply chain jobs, were dependent on consumers living in countries where lockdown conditions were being most tightly imposed, leading to plummeting retail sales.
In 2019, the Asia-Pacific region had employed an estimated 65 million in the sector, accounting for 75 per cent of all garment workers worldwide, the report reveals.
Although governments in the region have responded proactively to the crisis, thousands of factories have been shuttered – either temporarily or indefinitely – prompting a sharp increase in worker layoffs and dismissals.
And the factories that have reopened, are often operating at reduced workforce capacity.
“The typical garment worker in the region lost out on at least two to four weeks of work and saw only three in five of her co-workers called back to the factory when it reopened”, said Christian Viegelahn, Labour Economist at the ILO Regional Office for Asia and the Pacific.
“Declines in earnings and delays in wage payments were also common among garment workers still employed in the second quarter of 2020”.
Women worst impacted
As women comprise the vast majority of the region’s garment workers, they are being disproportionately affected by the crisis, the report tracked.
Additionally, their situation is exacerbated by existing inequalities, including increased workloads and gender over-representation, as well as a rise in unpaid care work and subsequent loss of earnings
To mitigate the situation, the brief calls for inclusive social dialogue at national and workplace levels, in countries across the region.
It also recommends continued support for enterprises, along with extending social protection for workers, especially women.
The ILO’s recent global Call to Action to support manufacturers and help them survive the pandemic’s economic disruption – and protect garment workers’ income, health and employment – was cited as “a promising example of industry-wide solidarity in addressing the crisis”.
“It is vital that governments, workers, employers and other industry stakeholders work together to navigate these unprecedented conditions and help forge a more human-centred future for the industry”, upheld Ms. Miyakawa.
Nuts and bolts
The study assessed the pandemic’s impact on supply chains, factories and workers in Bangladesh, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Myanmar, Pakistan, Philippines, Sri Lanka and Viet Nam.
It is based on research and analysis of publicly available data together with interviews from across the sector in Asia.
A few ‘green shoots’, but future of global trade remains deeply uncertain
Estimates show that world trade will drop by five per cent this quarter, compared with the 2019 level. While this is an improvement over the nearly 20 per cent decline in the second quarter of the year, it is still not enough to pull trade out of the red.
Uncertainty aggravating trade
“The uncertain course of the pandemic will continue aggravating trade prospects in the coming months”, said UNCTAD Secretary-General Mukhisa Kituyi.
“Despite some ‘green shoots’ we can’t rule out a slowdown in production in certain regions or sudden increases in restrictive policies.”
While the projection represents a decrease, the figure is a more positive result than previously expected, as UNCTAD had projected a 20 per cent year-on-end drop for 2020, back in June.
Trade trends have improved since then, the agency added, primarily due to the earlier than expected resumption of economic activity in Europe and east Asia.
China leads recovery
The report points to China, which has shown a notable trade recovery.
Chinese exports had fallen in the early months of the pandemic and stabilized in the second quarter of the year, before rebounding strongly in the next quarter, with year-over year growth of almost 10 per cent.
“Overall, the level of Chinese exports for the first nine months of 2020 was comparable to that of 2019 over the same period”, the report said.
Within China, demand for goods and services has also recovered. Imports stabilized in July and August, and grew by 13 per cent in September.
Growth and decline in Asia
India and South Korea also recorded export growth last month, at four per cent and eight per cent, respectively.
UNCTAD reported that as of July, the fall in trade was significant in most regions except east Asia.
West and south Asia saw the sharpest declines, with imports dropping by 23 per cent, and exports by 29 per cent.
The report also includes an assessment of trade in different sectors, with the energy and automotive industries hardest hit by the pandemic.
Meanwhile, sectors such as communication equipment, office machinery, and textiles and apparel, have seen strong growth due to the implementation of mitigation responses such as teleworking and personal protection measures.
Wealthy nations benefit from COVID-19 medical supply trade
The report also gives special attention to COVID-19 medical supplies, which include personal protective equipment, disinfectants, diagnostic kits, oxygen respirators and related hospital equipment.
Between January and May, sales of medical supplies from China, the European Union, and the United States, rose from $25 billion to $45 billion per month. Since April, trade has increased by an average of more than 50 per cent.
However, the authors found wealthier nations have mainly benefited from this trade, with middle and low income countries priced out from access to COVID-19 supplies.
Residents of high income countries have on average benefited from an additional $10 per month of imports of COVID-19 related products. This compares to just $1 for their counterparts in middle income countries, and 10 cents for those in low income nations.
UNCTAD warned that if a COVID-19 vaccine becomes available, the access divide between wealthy and poor countries could be even more drastic.
The report urges governments, the private sector and philanthropic organizations to continue mobilizing additional funds to fight the pandemic in developing countries and to support financial mechanisms that will provide safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines to poor countries
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