Climate Change: The Real Pandemic

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This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Ms. Aysha Noor, a 3rd year MBBS student from Shifa College of Medicine in Islamabad, Pakistan. She is affiliated with the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writer and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.


Life on earth is dependent on the environment. Yet, the environment and human health are considered to be isolated issues. However, it has been observed in the last decade that as global temperatures are climbing, the rate of zoonotic infectious diseases are also rising. To address this concern, the One Health approach was born. This concept reiterates that human health is interlinked with our environment and the organisms in it. Therefore, global crises require collaboration of human and veterinary medicines with environmental sciences at the local, national and international levels. In the age of the COVID-19 pandemic, the One Health approach is more relevant than ever as the origins of this pandemic can be linked to climate change. [1]

The World Health Organization (WHO) declared COVID-19 a zoonotic disease implying the origin of the virus is from an animal. [2] Currently,  the working theory is that the disease originated in bats and may have jumped to humans via an unidentified intermediate host. [3]

The fact that COVID-19 is a zoonotic disease is not a coincidence; both COVID-19 and climate change share a common element. It is widely known that one of the primary causes of climate change is deforestation. In the past few decades, large tracts of land have been cleared for agriculture, logging, cattle ranching, etc. [4] Such practices have destroyed the natural ecosystems. Faced with the loss of their habitat, the affected animals are forced to migrate which has two main disastrous consequences. First, the mass migration allows species of animals that normally do not interact to come into close proximity facilitating pathogens to find new or intermediate hosts. [5] Second, with their habitat and food source eliminated, many animals find shelter near humans. Consequently, the risk of animal pathogens’ transmissions to humans increases. [1] Since, this pattern of disease has been underlying many recent epidemics of viral zoonoses such as Ebola and Zika virus, it is highly suspected that the COVID-19 virus has followed the same path. [1, 6]

As evident, climate change is heavily implicated in the COVID-19 pandemic and neglecting it has been our downfall. The world is unified on the opinion that such a global health catastrophe must be avoided at all costs. In order to prevent the next pandemic, it is critical for the world to turn their attention to the One Health approach and break down the barriers separating environmental concerns from human health in mainstream thought. Until actions have been taken against climate change, the world will not be in the safe zone.

References

  1. Coronavirus and climate change. C-CHANGE | Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. (2020, July 6). https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/c-change/subtopics/coronavirus-and-climate-change/.  
  2. Bloom, J. D., Chan, Y. A., Baric, R. S., Bjorkman, P. J., Cobey, S., Deverman, B. E., Fisman, D. N., Gupta, R., Iwasaki, A., Lipsitch, M., Medzhitov, R., Neher, R. A., Nielsen, R., Patterson, N., Stearns, T., Nimwegen, E. van, Worobey, M., & Relman, D. A. (2021, May 14). Investigate the origins of covid-19. Science. https://science.sciencemag.org/content/372/6543/694.1
  3. Kunzmann, K. (2021, March 29). WHO, China report suggests COVID-19 passed FROM bats to humans through another animal. Contagion Live. https://www.contagionlive.com/view/who-china-report-covid-19-passed-bats-humans-animal.
  4. Why are rainforests being destroyed? Rainforest Concern. (n.d.). https://www.rainforestconcern.org/forest-facts/why-are-rainforests-being-destroyed.
  5. Fritzsche McKay, A., & Hoye, B. J. (2016, July 25). Are migratory animals superspreaders of infection? OUP Academic. https://academic.oup.com/icb/article/56/2/260/2240731
  6. Destoumieux-Garzón, D., Mavingui, P., Boetsch, G., Boissier, J., Darriet, F., Duboz, P., Fritsch, C., Giraudoux, P., Le Roux, F., Morand, S., Paillard, C., Pontier, D., Sueur, C., & Voituron, Y. (1AD, January 1). The one Health Concept: 10 years old and a long road ahead. Frontiers. https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fvets.2018.00014/full

About the author

The author is Aysha Noor, a 3rd year MBBS student from Shifa College of Medicine in Islamabad, Pakistan. She is affiliated with the Pakistani branch of International Federation of Medical Students Association (IFMSA). Noor is involved in several activities that promote healthy and sustainable living. Noor is passionate about educating the public in hopes that we can build a brighter future. 

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