New research, compiled by a team of international wildlife and veterinary experts, has used a ‘solutions scan’ approach to identify seven routes by which pandemics could occur and 161 options for reducing the risk.
The paper has outlined potential strategies by which to reduce the risk of another COVID-19-like pandemic from wildlife trade, domestic animal trade, and any interactions with animals.
Currently in review in Biological Review, the study – led by Cambridge University - argues that well-meaning but simplistic actions such as complete bans on hunting and wildlife trade, ‘wet markets’ or consumption of wild animals may be unachievable and are not enough to prevent another pandemic.
Dr Amy Hinsley, co-author and Senior Research Fellow at the Department of Zoology at Oxford University said: ‘Wildlife trade is complex and diverse, and acknowledging this is vital when designing strategies to reduce the risk of disease transmission from wild animals to people. Rather than a uniform policy for all species, this solution scan outlines context-specific interventions that should be part of a risk-based approach to reducing the likelihood of disease transmission throughout wildlife trade chains, from supplier to end consumer.’
The team of 25 international experts considered all major ways that diseases with high potential for human to human transmission can jump from animals to humans (termed zoonotic diseases).
‘Wildlife trade is not ubiquitously bad for people and nature - some forms of wildlife trade represent negligible or manageable risks in terms of zoonotic outbreaks, whilst providing myriad benefits in terms of livelihoods and food security’, said co-author Hollie Booth, a DPhil researcher at the Department of Zoology, who also led a separate research paper on Managing wildlife trade for sustainable development outcomes after COVID-19.
‘We hope this list of practical options can help decision makers to minimize the public health risks of human-animal interactions going forwards, while allowing people to continue benefiting from sustainable wildlife trade and agriculture’.
Some of the ways to reduce the risk of another pandemic are relatively simple, such as encouraging smallholder farmers to keep chickens or ducks away from people. Others, like improving biosecurity and introducing adequate veterinary and hygiene standards for farmed animals across the world, would require significant financial investment on a global scale.
Dr Diogo Veríssimo, a Research Fellow at Oxford University, said: ‘To tackle the next pandemic we will need to understand why people purchase and use wildlife products, as a first step to influence consumers away from high risk products and towards more sustainable lower risk alternatives. We hope that this solution scan will highlight approaches beyond the widely proposed blanket bans, which can be counterproductive by for example driving trade underground’.
The 161 options to reduce future outbreaks include:
• Laws to prevent the mixing of different wild animals or the mixing of wild and domestic animals during transport and at markets;
• Increase switching to plant-based foods to reduce consumption of, and demand for, animal products;
• Safety protocols for caving in areas with high bat density, such as use of waterproof coveralls and masks;
• Improve animal health on farms by limiting stocking densities and ensuring high standards of veterinary care.
The report is currently being peer reviewed. The findings were generated by a method called Solution Scanning, which uses a wide range of sources to identify a range of options for a given problem. Sources included the scientific literature, position papers by Non-Governmental Organisations, industry guidelines, experts in different fields, and the expertise of the study team itself.