COVID-19 has caused more than four million recorded deaths. As we navigate through the wreckage the pandemic continues to leave in its wake, scientists are already warning that COVID-19 will not be the last zoonotic disease to emerge and world leaders are asking: How do we prevent the next pandemic?
WHO Investigators believe that SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19) originated in bats as a reservoir animal, passing through an intermediate host animal, to Patient Zero in southern China. COVID-19 is just one example of the 75% of emerging infectious diseases that originate from animal–human transmission—others include HIV-AIDS (which is passed from chimpanzees), Ebola virus disease (which is passed through bats or monkeys), and H1N1/Avian Flu (which is passed from birds).
In certain conditions, highly dangerous viruses and other pathogens may spill over between species, either through direct contact between animals acting as virus reservoirs and humans, or via intermediate host animals (like livestock) who were subject to the initial spillover. Once the disease spills over from the animal to a human (usually through contact with blood or body tissue), human-to-human transmission becomes possible and far easier (e.g. through air droplets, contaminated surfaces). Further, humans have no existing immune response to novel viruses or other pathogens.
Human destruction and fragmentation of wildlife habitat continues to bring humans, wild animals, and domesticated animals in closer contact than ever before. Rising global temperatures contribute to changes in animal habitats and migration patterns, which facilitate the emergence and spread of pathogens. Intensive confinement of animals in agriculture, often paired with widespread use of antibiotics, creates conditions in which new pathogens can emerge and spread. Similarly, the transportation and confinement of animals used in laboratories (often high-risk animals such as apes from distant countries) has contributed to outbreaks of zoonotic diseases including Marburg hemorrhagic fever and Ebola virus disease. International travel, trade, and food supply chains have made borders obsolete when it comes to disease transmission. Wildlife markets and the international wildlife trade put humans in intimate contact with wild animals, who may have open wounds or be carrying disease.
G7 Summit Carbis Bay Communiqué
Fortunately, the risk of endemic zoonotic diseases can be materially reduced by appropriate international action addressing these underlying causes. Preventing the next pandemic is a global problem that requires a global solution. In the 2021 G7 Summit Carbis Bay Communiqué, the G7 world leaders committed to placing “particular emphasis on improving integration, by strengthening a ‘One Health’ approach across all aspects of pandemic prevention and preparedness, recognizing the critical links between human and animal health and the environment.” European Council President Charles Michel, WHO Director Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, and more than 20 world leaders called for “a new international treaty for pandemic preparedness and response” that would “include recognition of a ‘One Health’ approach that connects the health of humans, animals, and our planet.”
Rising to meet this call, the Lawyers for the Convention on Animal Protection drafted the Convention on Animal Protection for Public Health, Animal Welfare, and the Environment (CAP), a treaty proposal that addresses this global problem by establishing certain minimum standards of state conduct and prohibition or regulation of high-risk activities. The CAP seeks to minimize risk of new pandemics by controlling the risk of transmission of zoonotic viruses and other pathogens through limiting inappropriate human contact with animals.
In addition to regulating human interaction with animals as it pertains to the transmission of zoonotic viruses and other pathogens, the CAP seeks to protect animals in their own right. The CAP therefore proposes minimum standards of care for interactions with animals, including wildlife, companion animals, commercial animals, animals in scientific research and testing, and animals in entertainment.