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Countries can learn from Africa in handling future pandemics: UN report

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The world can learn from Africa’s experience in handling zoonotic diseases — illnesses caused by germs that spread between animals and humans — in its fight against the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) and future pandemics, said a recent joint scientific assessment report.

In 2019, the continent reported 500 outbreaks of zoonotic diseases. Of this, Senegal accounted for nearly 57 per cent. The country reported over 280 outbreaks of Equine influenza or ‘horse flu’, that occurred as a result of strong winds and dust.

Stray donkeys were the main animals affected according to the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE). Last year, the continent managed to resolve most of the zoonotic outbreaks, revealed the OIE database.

The continent also experienced and responded to the most recent Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where its second-deadliest disease outbreak in the country’s eastern area was declared to be over June 25.

The Ebola virus infected 3,463 people and claimed 2,287 lives, according to the country’s government. Children accounted for 28 per cent of all cases, compared to about 20 per cent in previous epidemics, said the UNICEF.

“Ending this outbreak is a sign of hope for the region and the world: With solidarity, science, courage and commitment, even the most challenging epidemics can be controlled,” said Matshidiso Moeti, WHO’s regional director for Africa.

Sectoral policy frameworks for dealing with the diseases in environment, agriculture and health is, so far, often inadequate, said the report, released by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) and the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) July 6, 2020.

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Drivers of pandemics

The increase in demand for animal protein, rise in unsustainable farming, increased exploitation of wildlife and the climate crisis are among the seven key trends responsible for increasing emergence of zoonotic diseases, said the report.

Climate change can affect occurrences of diseases like the bird-flu and the Ebola virus disease, concluded research by the University of Queenland, Australia.

Intensive settings of food animal farming give rise to antimicrobial resistance and can trigger a crisis like the current COVID-19 pandemic, according to Delhi-based non-profit Centre for Science and Environment.

COVID-19 is among diseases like Ebola, Middle East respiratory syndrome, West Nile fever and Rift Valley fever, whose spread from animal hosts to humans was intensified by anthropogenic pressures.

“People look back to the influenza pandemic of 1918-19 and think such disease outbreaks happen only once in a century,” said 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,” he added.

While wildlife is the most common source of emerging diseases that affect humans, domestic animals may be the original sources, transmission pathways or amplifiers of zoonotic diseases.

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