Photo by: Pixabay user pedro_wroclaw
Why it matters: Current discussions about preventing the next pandemic are heavily focused on taking actions only after people get sick. But science and recent experience make clear that we can protect health by working to stop pandemic pathogens before they infect anyone.
The background: Over the last 100 years, about two viruses per year have jumped from animals to people. These “spillover” events are driven by actions like deforestation, wildlife trade, and risky agricultural practices, which also increase climate change. Climate change also pushes animals on land and in the sea to move to new places, creating opportunities for pathogens to get into new hosts.
The upshot: Safeguarding nature comes at a fraction of the cost of managing a pandemic after it starts, and could dramatically cut the risks of another pandemic emerging while conferring additional benefits that are good for our health and for the planet.
What we’re doing:
Our Director Dr. Aaron Bernstein and colleagues are providing recommendations for global coordination and calling on world leaders to urgently act to prevent pandemics before they start. Read the commentary in Nature.
Together with Harvard Global Health Institute (HGHI), we have convened the Scientific Task Force to Prevent Pandemics at the Source, a group of experts from around the world to identify the most effective ways to prevent new infectious diseases like COVID-19 before they start.
Their report outlines the strong scientific foundations for stopping the next pandemic by preventing the spillover of pathogens from animals to people. It provides recommendations for research and actions that have largely been absent from high-level discussions about pandemic prevention, including a novel call to integrate conservation actions with strengthening healthcare systems globally.
A study led by our Director Dr. Aaron Bernstein shows the annual costs of “primary pandemic prevention” actions (~$20 billion) are less than 5% of the lowest estimated value of lives lost from emerging infectious diseases every year, less than 10% of the economic costs, and provide substantial co-benefits. Read the Science Advances study.
We also found that the costs of preventing future zoonotic outbreaks like COVID-19—by preventing deforestation and regulating the wildlife trade—are as little as $22 billion a year, 2% of the economic and mortality costs of responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, which some economists predict could reach $10-20 trillion. Read the Science study.
Primary Pandemic Prevention Costs 5% of Lives Lost Every Year from Emerging Infectious Diseases
Primary pandemic prevention actions cost less than 5% of the lowest estimated value of lives lost from emerging infectious diseases every year
Protecting forests and changing agricultural practices are essential, cost-effective actions to prevent pandemics
Our new report outlines the strong scientific foundations for taking actions to stop the next pandemic by preventing the spillover of pathogens from animals to people.
Solutions for preventing the next pandemic
The cost of preventing the next pandemic is 2% of the cost we’re paying for COVID-19.
World leaders ‘ignoring’ role of destruction of nature in causing pandemics
Ending the destruction of nature to stop outbreaks at source is more effective and cheaper than responding to them, says our Director Dr. Aaron Bernstein
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Our Director Dr. Aaron Bernstein spoke to Arun Rath of GBH News about how preventing a future pandemic is cost-effective if we invest it in the right places.
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Our Director Dr. Aaron Bernstein is leading an international task force to help prevent the next pandemic before it starts.
Harvard Launches International Scientific Task Force to Prevent Pandemics at the Source
Harvard Chan C-CHANGE and HGHI are launching a Scientific Task Force for Preventing Pandemics at the Source, led by our Director Dr. Aaron Bernstein.
We’re better off when we stop pandemics before they start
On this episode of Better Off, our director Dr. Aaron Bernstein explains how protecting the environment could also secure the future of our own species.
Calling Covid-19 a Crisis of Humanity's Own Making, Coalition Says Healing 'Broken Relationship With Nature' Key to Stopping Next Pandemic
"The Covid-19 vaccines will help rescue us from this current mess, but it won't do a thing to protect us from the next pandemic," says our Director Dr. Aaron Bernstein.
Aaron Bernstein MD, MPH
Aaron examines the human health effects of global environmental changes with the aim of promoting a deeper understanding of these subjects among students, educators, policy makers, and the public.