Covid-19 Pandemic and Environmental Emergency :
Reinventing Global Health in times of Global Changes
Beyond its consequences for human health, the Covid-19 pandemic has profoundly shaken our societies. As in the case of other recent epidemics (H1N1, Ebola, Marbourg…), Covid-19 is a zoonosis, an illness caused by a virus transmitted from animals to humans. Such transmission is made easier by the destruction of ecosystems associated with deforestation, urbanisation, industrial livestock farming and the globalisation of the economy. If we are to limit the risk of pandemics, a questioning of our relationship to the environment and the animal realm is necessary.
Improvements in public health and in access to care have been manifest over the past few decades. These are due primarily to improvements in hygiene, to economic development and to technological progress in both diagnosis and treatment.
At the same time, environmental damage caused by human activity is without precedent and presages major crises in the future. The consequences of environmental and ecosystem degradation for human health can be observed in various domains:
- Pollution is directly responsible for increasing numbers of pathologies and deaths.
- Climate change, which provokes natural disasters and has direct impacts on agriculture and water resources, creates difficult humanitarian perspectives and increases migration.
- Constraints imposed upon animals and plants (diminishing biodiversity, rarefication of agricultural land, industrialisation of agriculture and animal breeding) are sources of epidemics (Ebola, Covid-19) and play a major role in resistance to antibiotics.
Economic and technological progress will no longer suffice to improve human health if we do not also change the way we related to the environment. Impacts of environmental degradation are greatest in poor regions, which will further exacerbate inequalities in human health. A major paradigm shift, one that will entail modifying our lifestyles and our approach to health care, will be necessary if we wish to avoid major crises in the future.
These new issues question both our concepts and our practices. Thinking grouped around the concepts of « One Health » or of « Planetary Health » suggest paths that global health can no longer overlook:
- Improvements to human health will not be possible without addressing environmental and social factors.
- Notwithstanding the continuing need for specialized knowledge, it is essential that conditions enabling transdisciplinary dialogue and the development of integrated engagements be created.
- The involvement of communities in their own health care and in the health of their environment needs to be promoted.
The GHF addressed these issues with global health players and initiated a constructive dialogue leading to innovative initiatives.