Home VM NewsOpinion Let’s connect the dots on COVID-19 and other zoonotic diseases

Let’s connect the dots on COVID-19 and other zoonotic diseases

by Darryl Grima

COVID-19 has disrupted our lives with lockdowns, no air-travel and more, yet this clearly wasn’t something out of the blue. Avian Flu has been with us since 2002, SARS since 2002, Ebola in 2014 and MERS since 2012. The only difference is that these resulted in far fewer deaths and we dodges the bullets.

Unfortunately the very act of dodging the bullets made us more arrogant. We dodged 5 bullets but the 6th one got us. In effect even our capacity to create a vaccine in such a short time, will probably mean that we will reflect less on the problem and believe that we can continue abusing the system as we have always done. Lets be clear, zoonotic diseases like Ebola and COVOD-19 can never come from eating cabbages. Zoonotic diseases are caused by infections that spread between animals and people. The severity of these diseases in humans varies from mild to life-threatening.

Now there is a debate whether COVID-19 started from a wet market or from a lab researching these viruses and I will be not surprised to see that the inquiry will incline towards a possibility that the virus escaped from a lab. This is because, such a conclusion falls within the right narrative.

The UN Environment Program UNEP, issued some images to explain the causes and factors leading to an increase in zoonosis emergence. All of these can be traced back to animal agriculture. All across the world, including the not so large tropical rainforests, land is being cleared to make way for pasture land for cows. Other large swathes are being burnt down, to make space for intensive farming, mainly soy crop, used to feed cows in European and US farms. This means that the forest that was a protective shield keeping animals (and diseases they might carry) away from direct contact with humans, is no longer there.

Another reason is intensive agriculture and livestock production. A second wave of African Swine Fever (ASP) is estimated to have killed as many as eight million pigs in China in the first few months of 2021. Since 2018, when it was first reported it has spread to multiple countries and has killed a quarter of the world’s pigs. Intensive farming practices are intensifying these problems.

In a recent outbreak news from the World Health Organisation, on 18th February 2021, the National IHR Focal Point for the Russian Federation notified WHO of detection of avian influenza A(H5N8) in seven human clinical specimens. These are the first reported detection of avian influenza A(H5N8) in humans. Whilst it seems that “the cases remained asymptomatic for the whole follow-up duration (several weeks)” isn’t it abundantly clear that we are playing with fire.

We have long known that the high volume use of antibiotics within the animal farming sector is actively contributing to the development of antimicrobial-resistant bacteria. Even the WHO acknowledges this in various reports.  In some countries the volume of antibiotics used in animals is actually 4 times larger than the amount used in humans. All of this primarily to induce growth and not to cure sick animals.

One report states “These bacteria can be transmitted from animals to humans via direct contact between animals and humans, or through the food chain and the environment. Antimicrobial-resistant infections in humans can cause longer illnesses, increased frequency of hospitalization, and treatment failures that can result in death. Some types of bacteria that cause serious infections in humans have already developed resistance to most or all of the available treatments and we are running out of treatment options for some types of infection.”

The solution

The writing is on the wall. All the indications are clear, and yet we don’t want to read the warning signs. We cannot feed 8 billion people, and have a healthy lifestyle a healthy planet and conserve nature without going plant based (or primarily plant based).

The Food and Agriculture Organisation FAO of the United Nations issued a guideline to maintaining a healthy diet during the COVID-19 pandemic. The main gist was to eat more fruit and vegetables and consume a diet rich in whole grains, nuts and healthy fats such as olive, sesame, peanut or other oils rich un saturated fatty acids. Essentially emphasising a healthy lifestyle, which is low in meat and dairy and mainly plant based. So if the basis to healthy lifestyle “a nutritious diet based on a variety of foods originating mainly from plants, rather than animals” according to WHO, why are health authorities and governments like our government and the EU still promoting and supporting the meat and dairy industry? Powerful lobby groups!

Should we wait for another pandemic (potentially more lethal) or should we start changing our ways now? The solutions are in our hands. Go plant-based.

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