Stopping deforestation, regulating wildlife trade may prevent future pandemics

Deforestation and trade in wildlife are increasing the risk that novel viruses as devastating as SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) and HIV will pass from animals to humans. Investing in efforts to prevent deforestation and regulate wildlife trade may be a cost-effective way to prevent future pandemics, according to a new study co-authored by Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Aaron Bernstein. The researchers found that prevention initiatives, such as direct forest-protection payments and regulations to stop the trade in species that present the greatest risk for zoonotic disease transmission, would cost as little as $22 billion a year—2% of the economic and mortality costs of responding to the global COVID-19 pandemic, which some economists predict could reach $10 trillion to $20 trillion.

The study was published July 24, 2020 in Science.

Bernstein, interim director of the Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment at the Harvard Chan School (Harvard C-CHANGE), was interviewed on the public radio program Living on Earth on July 31.

“I can’t even imagine a situation in which another virus like a COVID emerged in the coming year,” he said. “We would really be foolish to not spend a few percent of the price tag of this one virus to do anything we can to prevent another pandemic like this one.”

Read the study: Ecology and economics for pandemic prevention

Listen to the Living on Earth interview: Saving Forests Could Save Us from Diseases