World needs to set apart $30 billion a year to prevent the next pandemic and $15 trillion economic loss: Study

Researchers in a new analysis have called for an investment of about $30 billion every year to protect and monitor our forests and wildlife trade — factors that are driving outbreaks


                            World needs to set apart $30 billion a year to prevent the next pandemic and $15 trillion economic loss: Study
(Getty Images)

The Covid-19 crisis could cost the world up to $15 trillion in damages. To prevent the next pandemic and the resulting economic losses, researchers in a new analysis have called for an investment of about $30 billion every year to protect and monitor our forests and wildlife trade — factors that are increasingly driving outbreaks. 

Over the last century, two viruses every year have jumped to humans from wildlife. Some of the most dreaded examples include Covid-19, SARS, MERS, HIV, and Ebola. The spillover occurs when humans invade forested areas, or when they come into contact with primates, bats, and other wildlife or their meat. Handling farm animals such as chickens and pigs also raises the risk. 

The Covid-19 pandemic has killed more than 600K people. Countries were forced into lockdowns to control the virus, resulting in economic losses. "We may see the costs of Covid-19 soar to beyond $8 to $15 trillion with many millions of people unemployed and living under lockdown," co-author Amy Ando, a professor of agricultural and consumer economics at the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign, said in a statement.

Researchers from the US wondered how much would it cost to prevent a pandemic from happening again. "And what are the principal actions that need to be put in place to achieve this?" asked Andrew Dobson, a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at Princeton. Dobson collaborated with a group of epidemiologists, wildlife disease biologists, conservation practitioners, ecologists and economists to find answers.

Deforestation is largely responsible for two of the four novel viruses to emerge in the past 50 years: Ebola and SARS. (Margaret Kinnaird, WWF International)

Researchers estimate that shelling out a total of $22 to $31 billion each year could prevent future outbreaks. This annual cost is roughly what the world's wealthiest countries would spend on their military every year. "If we view the continuing battle with emerging pathogens such as Covid-19 as a war we all have to win, then the investment in prevention seems like exceptional value," Dobson said.

The new coronavirus is thought to have jumped from bats. Further, the state of wildlife trade — for food, medicine, pets, clothing, and furniture — is unregulated and unhygienic, warn researchers. But the organization that monitors wildlife trade — the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) — is underfunded as it has a net global budget of "a mere $6 million", Dobson said.

It is against this backdrop that researchers are calling for increased protection and surveillance of deforestation and wildlife trade. The team said that the world could benefit from these measures as it would allow researchers to detect a future emerging virus before it threatens life. The budget can help countries train more people to monitor and detect an emerging viral threat. These people can also educate local communities on how to reduce their exposure and keep themselves safe. 

Co-author Binbin Li, an assistant professor of environmental science at Duke Kunshan University in Jiangsu, China, said China needs more Veterinarians. "Veterinarians are on the front line of defense against emerging pathogens, and globally we desperately need more people trained with these skills," noted Dobson.

"Pathogen emergence is essentially as regular an event as national elections: once every four to five years," said co-author Peter Daszak, an epidemiologist with Ecohealth Alliance in New York, pointing to numerous studies. "New pathogens have appeared at roughly the same rate as new presidents, congressmen, senators and prime ministers!" You can find the analysis here.

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