20 May 2021 – Between 24 May and 1 June 2021, government representatives will meet virtually at the annual World Health Assembly, the main decision-making body of the World Health Organisation (WHO). Global animal welfare organisation FOUR PAWS sees the assembly as a historic opportunity to develop a treaty to prevent future pandemics. In the run-up to the World Health Assembly, FOUR PAWS is sending letters to heads of state and health ministers urging member states to support the treaty.
More than 30 of the 194 WHO member states, including Germany, South Africa, Japan, Thailand, France, Canada, and the UK, have already publicly expressed their support for the development of a pandemic treaty. If a majority of the World Health Assembly votes in favour of the agreement, a treaty will be drafted by the WHO Secretariat and is expected to contain measures for the prevention, detection, and control of pandemics. WHO member states could reach a final agreement by early 2022 but the treaty would only be binding once individual member states ratify it on a national level.
“A global treaty is essential to ensure better international coordination and set up a system that prevents future pandemics, not just responds to them. WHO member states must take this historic opportunity to make a lasting difference to the future of our planet. However, the agreement should not be a solo effort by the WHO. To strengthen the impact of the treaty and its chances at success, organisations such as the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations), OIE (World Organisation for Animal Health) and UNEP (United Nations Environment Programme) must also be involved in its creation and implementation,”
says Nina Jamal, campaign manager for pandemics at FOUR PAWS.
Animal welfare measures demanded in pandemic treaty
FOUR PAWS is concerned that decision makers do not consider animal welfare as an integral part in pandemic prevention. The widely known “One Health” approach is limited to the interrelationship between the health of humans, animals, and the environment rather than also addressing their wellbeing. As a result, FOUR PAWS calls on governments to go beyond that concept and adopt the complementary “One Welfare” framework, which is also supported by the WHO, FAO and OIE. It recognises the interrelationship between human wellbeing, animal welfare and nature. An imbalance in that relationship is often the origin and driver of zoonotic disease outbreaks, as the current COVID-19 pandemic shows. “As long as humans make animals suffer, we will suffer too – it is as simple as that. Preventing future pandemics must mean tackling the root causes. The pandemic treaty must enable action towards that end. Concrete measures include a ban on live animal markets and fur farms as well as an end to the commercial wildlife trade, factory farms and the dog and cat meat trade. These measures are not just moral considerations, but also a pure cost-benefit calculation. It has been proven that preventing pandemics costs only a fraction of combating them,” says Jamal.
Zoonotic diseases are mostly man-made
Neglecting animal welfare and environmental protection at the expense of global growth has led to a dangerous imbalance. According to a 2020 report by UNEP, 75 per cent of emerging infectious diseases originate in animals, meaning they are zoonotic. International experts assume that the novel coronavirus also originated in wild animals and jumped to humans via an animal intermediate host, possibly at a live animal market in Wuhan, China. In addition, climate change and habitat destruction are further drivers of the emergence of zoonoses. FOUR PAWS launched a campaign on 20 May to call on decision makers to introduce stricter animal welfare measures to prevent zoonotic pandemics in the future. See here.