Offline: the story of the origins – towards a deep ecology
Regardless of the precise origins of SARS-CoV-2, there is no need to wait for the definitive source of COVID-19 to be identified to draw important lessons, lessons that the global health community currently appears to be ignoring. . There are four immediate priorities. First, countries need to strengthen public health surveillance to establish a robust global early warning system for pneumonia of unknown etiology. The Independent Panel for Pandemic Preparedness and Response, chaired by Helen Clark and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, made the recommendation in its May 2021 report to the World Health Assembly. They also recommended that WHO be empowered to investigate suspicious outbreaks with pandemic potential in all countries in the short term; that declarations of public health emergencies of international concern should be based on the precautionary principle; and that the WHO IHR Emergency Committee should be more transparent. Progress on these proposals has ranged from slow to non-existent. A $ 100 million pandemic intelligence “hub” has been established in Berlin. A first meeting to discuss the possibilities of an international treaty on pandemic preparedness concluded in December 2021. But there is little sense of urgency. The slimy bureaucracy of global health threatens once again to dampen any impetus for action.
A second lesson concerns the dividing debate around the origins of SARS-CoV-2. The accusations leveled against countries, institutions and individuals have damaged the conditions for trusting cooperation between scientists and governments. Yet a productive environment for collaboration is an essential prerequisite if we are to improve our collective response to a future pandemic. The confrontational approach adopted by some politicians, policy makers and journalists has poisoned the atmosphere of cooperation. China has been particularly criticized. It is sometimes difficult to be a friend of China when examining the long list of concerns raised against the government: the plight of the Uyghurs in Xinjiang; repression of freedoms in Tibet; military maneuvers over Taiwan; Hong Kong’s dreaded National Security Law; quadruple the country’s nuclear fleet by 2030; and the asserted erasure of criticism by civil servants of an already restricted public sphere. But without wishing in any way to alleviate these concerns, our shared future health security depends on the full and welcome participation of all countries, including China, in international cooperative efforts to respond to the dangers of a pandemic. Now is not the time to blame China for the origins of COVID-19. On the contrary, the time has come to strengthen our solidarity with China in the face of a common global threat. Third, the debate over a lab leak has had at least one positive outcome. He shone the spotlight on laboratories licensed to handle some of the world’s most dangerous pathogens. It is no exaggeration to say that these laboratories exist in an almost complete regulatory vacuum. There should be swift action to create an independent inspection regime for the 59 Biosafety Level 4 laboratories in 23 countries around the world today – in Europe (25), North America (14), Asia (13), Australia (4) and Africa (3). Alarmingly, only a quarter of the countries hosting these facilities score well on biosecurity measures.
Finally, there are lessons for One Health – the links between human and animal health. SARS-CoV-2 is most likely the product of the ecological conditions that our species has created. Our numbers, density and connectivity. And more particularly our interactions with animals, interactions that are increasing as the climate crisis decreases the availability of resources, thus forcing humans and animals to occupy increasingly crowded spaces. Just as the appreciation of the importance of climate for health has triggered an environmental shift in global health, the pandemic is expected to precipitate an ecological shift. The living conditions of organisms interacting with each other and with their environment will be critical to improving pandemic preparedness. And here the writings of Arne Naess could be instructive. Naess was a Norwegian philosopher who died in 2009. He coined the term Deep Ecology to represent a view of the biosphere that emphasized the intrinsic value of human and non-human life. It is a profound ecological shift that we urgently need today – a radical transformation of our conception of health, habitat and humanity. The most important lesson of all.
Posted: 08 January 2022
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