DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO, 2019

A civil protection team removes the body of a 29-year-old man who died of Ebola, and then decontaminates the area, on the outskirts of Beni, North Kivu

Gualazzini

2019 © Marco Gualazzini / Contrasto

 

We often hear that the planet’s health and our own are closely connected, yet we still struggle to truly understand it. One of the most dramatic effects of the climate and environmental crisis on human health has been an increase in the frequency and spread of epidemics. Rising temperatures will interfere with the development cycle and zone of pathogenic organisms, expanding the endemic areas of many infectious diseases and increasing the risk contagion to new hosts. Uncontrolled deforestation is also already having deleterious effects on human health, forcing animal species and potential vectors of infectious diseases to leave their forest habitats and migrate closer to inhabited centres. The World Health Organization declared the Ebola virus (EVD) epidemic in the Democratic Republic of Congo an international public health emergency. This devastating epidemic is one of the best-known examples of how we, humans, contribute to the spread of highly lethal zoonoses (50% in the case of EVD). A series of research studies show that human interaction with flying foxes (or fruit bats) of the pteropodid family, that are natural reservoirs of the virus, was facilitated by deforestation, which modified these animals’ movements and distribution density. Our era risks becoming the age of “spillover”, a term used by biologists to indicate that a pathogen jumps from one species to another. Beyond climate factors, our growing speed of movement and a dense global trade network will make epidemic containment practices increasingly complex and onerous (especially for new pathogens, which would find a population that was not previously immunised). Prevention must also come through a radical rethinking of our behaviour with regard to the climate and the environment.

Andra Meneganzin