Humans to blame for spread of coronavirus and other ‘zoonoses’
PESHAWAR: Whether it came from a bat or a pangolin is not certain, but one thing is: the coronavirus outbreak that has killed tens of thousands and turned the world upside down comes from the animal world.
It is human activity that enabled the virus to jump to people, and specialists are warning that if nothing changes many other pandemics of this nature will follow. The name given to diseases transmitted from animals to humans is "zoonoses", based on the Greek words for "animal" and "sickness".
They are not new -- tuberculosis, rabies, toxoplasmosis, malaria, to name just a few, are all zoonoses.
According to the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), 60 percent of human infectious diseases originate from animals.
This figure climbs to 75 percent for "emerging" diseases such as Ebola, HIV, avian flu, Zika, or SARS, another type of coronavirus. The list goes on.
"The emergence of zoonotic diseases is often associated with environmental changes or ecological disturbances, such as agricultural intensification and human settlement, or encroachments into forests and other habitats," said a 2016 UNEP report.
"Changes in the environment are usually the result of human activities, ranging from land use change to climate change."
Gwenael Vourc'h of INRAE, a French public research institute, also blames human activity for the crossover between species.
"Given the growth of the human population and its ever more intense use of planetary resources, the destruction of more and more ecosystems multiplies contacts," she says.
A key area of concern is deforestation to make way for agriculture and intensive livestock farming.
Domesticated animals are often a "bridge" between pathogens from the wild and humans. The widespread use of antibiotics in the livestock industry has also led to bacterial pathogens building up immunity to front-line drugs.
Urbanisation and habitat fragmentation are also highly disruptive of the balance between species, while global warming can push disease-carrying animals into new territory. - AFP