From the Viewsroom

Tackling zoonotic diseases

PT Jyothi Datta | Updated on September 08, 2021

A development model that doesn’t erode animal habitats is key

As Nipah gets reported from Kerala for the third time, the fruit bat is likely to come into focus again, to explain the possible origin of the virus. From its early identification in Malaysia and multiple times thereafter in Bangladesh, for instance, the source has been traced to human proximity to sick pigs or fruit bats, half-eaten fruits or products (raw date palm juice) contaminated by them. The reaction most often is to cull or demonise the animal. But Covid-19 has illustrated the critical need to put a distance between humans and animals, be it farm or wild ones, to prevent zoonotic diseases from viruses that jump species.

Bats, for example, are found across various regions. So, why does Nipah get identified only from certain parts? Does it have to do with better reporting; virus shedding patterns or proximity? Virologists say only extensive research and surveillance can throw up possible answers. In fact, SARS-CoV-2 virus (that caused Covid-19) has more than brought home the dire need to prioritise policy attention to zoonotic diseases, at least in self-interest. The world has lived through ghostly locked-down cities and grounded flights and people have had to live through stressful economic realities and the anxieties that come with them.

Globally, epidemiologists warn that zoonotic diseases and pandemics are increasingly going to be part of our lives. To be prepared, we need to bring together public health and hygiene measures and better agricultural practices involving the food industry in terms of transportation, handling and storage of greens, meat and so on.

Most importantly though, there is need for a more sustainable definition of development that does not erode animal habitats. As trees are cut and cities and rail-road systems push into more green areas, we erode the buffer zone between humans and animal habitats, at great risk to them and ourselves. It’s time to exercise the world’s best minds to help build back, safer.

Published on September 07, 2021

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