The panel will advise four international organisations – the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO); the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE); the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP); and the World Health Organization (WHO) – on the development of a long-term global plan of action to avert outbreaks of diseases like H5N1 avian influenza, MERS, Ebola, Zika, and, possibly, Covid-19. Three-quarters of all emerging infectious diseases originate in animals.
It will operate under the One Health Approach, which recognises the links between the health of people, animals, and the environment and highlights the need for specialists in multiple sectors to address any health threats and prevent disruption to agri-food systems.
First steps will include systematic analyses of scientific knowledge about the factors that lead to transmission of a disease from animal to human and vice versa, development of risk assessment and surveillance frameworks, identification of capacity gaps, as well as agreement on good practices to prevent and prepare for zoonotic outbreaks.
The impact of human activity on the environment
The panel will consider the impact of human activity on the environment and wildlife habitats. Critical areas will include food production and distribution, urbanisation and infrastructure development, international travel and trade, activities that lead to biodiversity loss and climate change; and those that put increased pressure on the natural resource base – all of which can lead to the emergence of zoonotic diseases.
The panel will guide development of a dynamic new research agenda and draw up evidence-based recommendations for global, regional, national and local action.
Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO Director-General, said: “Human health does not exist in a vacuum, and nor can our efforts to protect and promote it. The close links between human, animal and environmental health demand close collaboration, communication and co-ordination between the relevant sectors. The High-Level Expert Panel is a much-needed initiative to transform One Health from a concept to concrete policies that safeguard the health of the world’s people.”
This comes as GlobalData says India could reach approximately 1.4 million new daily Covid-19 cases by 24 May, if current transmission risk is not reduced further. Hopefully, with new insights, we could be more prepared for a possible next pandemic.