The following statement on World Health Day was issued by Dr. Chris Walzer, Wildlife Conservation Society’s Executive Director of Health:

“Today, April 7th is WHO’s World Health Day. The WHO estimates that more than 13 million deaths a year are due to avoidable environmental causes and, for the first time, is using World Health Day to focus global attention on urgent actions needed to support human and planetary health.   

“It is increasingly clear that planetary mismanagement has led to an escalation of infectious and non-infectious health threats at an unprecedented scale, with impacts from individuals to communities, across landscapes, to the entire globe. Climate change is altering the distribution, life cycle, and physiology of hosts, pathogens, and vectors, shifting infectious diseases' distribution, emergence, and ecology. From the most remote terrestrial wilderness to the deepest ocean, to the most densely populated cities, we are inexorably changing our planet.

“The drivers of the biodiversity loss and climate change crises also drive the increase in pathogen spillover: deforestation; unsustainable and illegal exploitation of wildlife, timber, and other resources; ecosystem degradation; land-use change for agricultural intensification and other industrial expansion; wildlife trade (legal and illegal), wildlife farms, and wildlife markets. Recent research provides strengthened evidence that the COVID-19 pandemic originated from live wildlife in a market, and WCS research has highlighted high contact rates between wildlife and people in markets, potentially zoonotic pathogens circulating in traded wild animals in Viet Nam and Laos, and increasing prevalence along wildlife trade chains from the field to markets to restaurants. 

“As of April 1, 2022, more than 486 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 6.1 million deaths have been reported to the World Health Organization, though the actual numbers are likely far higher. The cost of the COVID-19 pandemic is in the trillions of dollars, with one 2022 study estimating US$ 16 trillion in lost GDP and health loss. The estimated cost of implementing solutions focused on pandemic prevention at source is substantially less than the human and economic costs caused by zoonotic pathogens once they have become a pandemic: one recent study put gross estimated costs of prevention at US$ 22-31 billion per year. The limited economic benefits of commercial wildlife markets, live wildlife trade, and wildlife farms are negligible in comparison.

“Encroached and degraded landscapes impact multiple other health indicators and exacerbate non-communicable diseases, increasing water-borne illnesses, limiting access to clean water, foods, and traditional medicine, damaging immune responses and mental health, while increasing contaminant exposure. 

“Highly Intact and functional ecosystems provide the infrastructure for life, health, and well-being for all on our planet. The World Health Assembly, under the auspices of the WHO, has launched a process to negotiate an international treaty, agreement, or instrument to address pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response. Any such agreement must prioritize an equitable and strong science-based approach to pandemic prevention at the source, including actions on forest degradation, commercial wildlife markets, and associated biodiversity loss. An ounce of prevention is truly worth many pounds of cure. 

“The quality of current, and future, human and animal health and well-being, depend on the success (or failure) of our collective environmental stewardship. This can be framed with a One Health Approach, which acknowledges the inseparability of human, animal, and environmental health and recognizes that optimal health outcomes for all requires a collaborative, responsive, transdisciplinary and trans-sectoral approach across scales.

“We must change our relationship with nature and our exploitation of wildlife. We must protect ecosystems with high ecological integrity and function. And we must stop encroaching on nature and reduce points of contact with wildlife, to limit consequential pathogen spillovers from wildlife to humans and their livestock. Future generations are depending on our actions.” 



WCS One Health

WCS Issues Report on One Health In Action