Three years of COVID-19 and the fight against the next pandemic
As we mark the third anniversary of the COVID-19 pandemic, our Campaign Director, Melissa Matlow, reflects on progress made and the work ahead.
By Melissa Matlow, Campaign Director
Three years ago today, the world woke up to a new reality - COVID-19 had been declared a global pandemic.
At World Animal Protection, we're fighting for a future where animal, human and planetary health are all at the forefront of global conversations. By highlighting the interconnectedness of our world, we're taking steps towards preventing deadly outbreaks, like COVID-19, from devastating lives and economies. While we've faced tough times, we're inspired by the unwavering perseverance of our community to make the world a safer place for all.
To work towards preventing future pandemics, we have been collaborating with organizations, academics, and experts to highlight the interdependence of our world. Protecting human health is inseparable from safeguarding animal and planetary health. It is our responsibility to ensure that animal welfare is included in this crucial discussion.
While there is still a lot of work to be done, today is a perfect day to reflect on what has been done so far and what still needs to happen to make this world safer for all.
Movement on the international stage
The global response to COVID-19 has sparked important conversations around the world about the need to address the root causes of pandemics. Some notable developments include:
- In December 2022, the Global Biodiversity framework was adopted at the United Nations Biodiversity Conference (COP15) in Montreal. All 196 countries agreed that trade in wildlife must be sustainable, legal and safe. The reference to “safe” is a direct result of the pandemic and recognizes the interconnectedness between animal health and human health. Also, One Health language has been adopted in the Post-2020 Global Framework, linking to the interconnectedness of environmental, animal and human health and wellbeing.
- In November 2022, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) adopted a draft decision to reduce the risk of zoonotic disease transmission from traded wildlife, proposing measures such as increased monitoring and reporting of disease outbreaks and stricter health checks. CITES rarely acknowledges the broader implications of the wildlife trade beyond its impact on wild populations This is a positive step and one of the few times CITES has acknowledged that the trade in wildlife can have other significant implications beyond pressures on wild populations.
- In March 2022, the United Nations Environment Assembly adopted the Sustainable Development Nexus resolution, asking the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) to study the link between animal welfare, the environment and sustainable development.
- In December 2021, 194 countries, including Canada, agreed to develop a new agreement under the World Health Organization (WHO) aimed at preventing, preparing for, and responding to pandemics. This agreement referred to as the “Pandemic Instrument” reflects a global commitment to improve international cooperation and coordination in pandemic prevention and response, and marks a significant step towards more effective global health governance.
- In May 2021, the UN established the One Health High-Level Expert Panel, comprising the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH), the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), and the World Health Organization (WHO). The panel aims to promote One Health worldwide by gathering knowledge, monitoring disease outbreaks, and identifying factors that contribute to the spread of zoonotic diseases.
- In 2020, we launched a global campaign in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which was believed to have originated from the wildlife trade. Our aim was to raise awareness about the need for a One Health, One Welfare approach to prevent future pandemics. We presented scientific evidence and garnered public support for this approach, and successfully brought it to the attention of G20 Leaders.
Canadian efforts contributing to global progress
Our team has been actively involved in advocating for policy changes that address the root causes of pandemics. While our team was at COP15 in Montreal in December 2022, we were thrilled to see an agreement reached that mandates all countries to take action to halt, reverse, and restore biodiversity.
We worked hard to ensure that the connection between public health and the dangerous wildlife trade was included, and while we would have liked to see more explicit reference to animal welfare, we are encouraged by the progress made.
Another significant development is the Pandemic Prevention and Preparedness Act (Bill C-293), a private member's bill introduced by Member of Parliament, Nathaniel Erskine-Smith. If passed, Bill C-293 would help to address top pandemic drivers, including the commercial wildlife trade, live animals markets, and industrial agriculture.
“While the world might have returned to pre-pandemic activity, we still need to do all that we can to prevent and prepare for future pandemics. The purpose of the Pandemic Prevention and Preparedness Act is to prepare for and decrease the risk of future pandemics, while also promoting transparency and accountability toward that goal. It is encouraging to see that the Bill has been sent to committee to be studied further and that experts can add their voice to the process.” — Nathaniel Erskine-Smith
We helped move the Bill to the committee stage which means that the content of the Bill will now be studied and it's an opportunity for experts to add their voice to the process.
As we look to the future, there is still much work to be done to ensure that the lessons we have learned from COVID-19 are not forgotten. Our priorities include:
- Continuing to advocate for the passage of the Pandemic Prevention and Preparedness Act (Bill C-293).
- Raising awareness of the importance of animal welfare in addressing public health crises.
- Holding Canada accountable for meeting its biodiversity targets by 2030, with a specific focus on curbing the trade in wild animals that pose the highest risk to public health and biodiversity.
The fight against the next pandemic starts with all of us, and it requires a global effort to address the root causes of zoonotic disease transmission. The progress made over the past three years in recognizing the connection between animal welfare, biodiversity loss, and public health is encouraging, but much more needs to be done to prevent future pandemics.
End the global wildlife trade
We must stop the trade in wild animals now to help prevent future global health crises and protect our environment for generations to come.
Sign our petition now to join us in calling on the Government of Canada to end this cruel and dangerous trade.
It’s been 3 years since COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic. To prevent future pandemics, we must address the root causes and that includes protecting animal welfare.