The cost of preventing future pandemics is a mere modicum of the amount Covid-19 is expected to cost the global economy, according to a new analysis published on 24 July in Science (1).
Human destruction of nature is causing the emergence of new pandemics like the coronavirus.
Several key drivers have been highlighted including trade and consumption of high-risk wildlife, deforestation and conversion for land-use change, expansion of agriculture, and unsustainable intensification and animal production as key drivers.
Viruses of zoonotic origin can directly spill over into humans when people handle live primates, bats, and other wildlife (or their meat) or indirectly from farm animals like chickens and pigs. Two such viruses per year have emerged in the human population over the past century. For example, bats are most likely the origin of the Ebola, Sars and novel coronavirus (Sars-Cov-2) viruses.
Relatively little is spent on preventing deforestation and regulating the wildlife trade. Increased global investments could have far-reaching benefits, even beyond preventing disease outbreaks. Cracking down on the wildlife trade and deforestation (by up to 40 per cent in key regions) will be crucial to preventing future zoonotic disease outbreaks.
What is the cost of preventing future pandemics?
To come up some numbers, the team of researchers – with various backgrounds in economics, medicine, conservation, and the environment – assessed the costs of monitoring and preventing disease spillover caused by the unprecedented loss and fragmentation of tropical forests and rapidly growing wildlife trade.
The authors claim that very little is currently spent on preventing deforestation and regulating wildlife trade. However, spending around $260 billion (around €220 billion) over the next ten years would considerably reduce the risks of another pandemic like the coronavirus from emerging.
While this might sound like a lot, it is minuscule compared to the estimated $11.5 trillion (nearly €10 trillion) in costs the Covid-19 outbreak will likely incur – just two per cent of the estimated financial damage. Indeed, the cost of the current pandemic has been colossal and the global response could amount to a massive $5.6 trillion (€4.7 trillion) by the end of 2020.
To stem the tide of future pandemics, the experts advise investing up to $15 billion (€12.6 billion) per year into efforts that are currently severely underfunded such as decreasing deforestation, as well as implementing better conservation programs for farmers, lowering global wildlife consumption, and conducting more testing on humans and animals, especially in high-risk areas.
The costs of protecting the world’s forests would be balanced, in part, by the added benefit of reducing the carbon emissions that are driving the climate crisis, the authors say. However, the successful implementation of deforestation policies will require national motivation and political will.
The authors urge the world to act now to prevent future pandemics. Rather than trying to mop up the mess, turning off the faucet on future outbreaks is by far the best approach.
(1) Dobson, A.P. et al. Ecology and economics for pandemic prevention. Science (2020). DOI: 10.1126/science.abc3189