Panama City (Panama), 25 November – “Wildlife crime and destruction of habitat puts humans more into contact with wildlife and exposes us to the risk of zoonotic diseases” declared Ivonne Higuero, Secretary General of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), during the opening of the 19th Conference of the Parties of the Convention (COP19).
During two weeks of deliberations, CoP delegates adopted draft decisions on the “Role of CITES in reducing risk of future zoonotic disease emergence associated with international wildlife trade”, proposed by a working group of which UNODC was a member. With this decision the delegates of the CoP19 for the first time encourage CITES authorities to contribute to efforts “to identify and reduce the risk of transmission and spillover of zoonotic diseases and pathogen emergence from traded wildlife.” As a result, the CITES Secretariat has been tasked to draft a report on the existing initiatives contributing to these efforts, as concrete indication of the willingness of the CITES CoP to support a broader One Health approach in the implementation of the Convention.
The Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services estimate that 75 percent of new and emerging infectious diseases in humans can be transmitted from animals to people.
Drawing attention to its efforts to reduce zoonotic disease risks related to the illegal wildlife trade, UNODC hosted a side event in the margins of COP19 with a panel of six speakers including government officials from Lao PDR, Thailand and Viet Nam as well as representatives of the European Commission Directorate-General for the Environment (DG ENV), the UNODC Environment Team, and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).
The side event entitled “Illegal Wildlife Trade and One Health: Perspectives from Southeast Asia” reflected the working group’s recommendations on the risk of future zoonotic disease emergence associated with international wildlife trade. Panelists discussed current initiatives aimed at preventing zoonotic disease spillover and transmission alongside wildlife crime in Southeast Asia.
One such initiative is the Safety Across Asia for the Global Environment (SAFE) project, funded by the European Union and implemented by UNODC in cooperation with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and UNEP. It focuses on the connection between wildlife trafficking and zoonotic disease transmission to prevent future pandemics. “The current published scientific consensus supports a wildlife trade emergence of SARS CoV2 to humans. Therefore, it’s appropriate that CITES, as the convention on wildlife trade, looks to evaluate these risks in its decision-making processes,” noted Dr Ross McEwing of the UNODC Environment Team and one of panelists of the side event.
In October 2022, the SAFE project team launched the first in a series of national research surveys to identify facilities with a high risk of disease transmission from wild animals to humans. Prior to the field assessment visits, the SAFE project team developed a risk assessment framework on which the survey is based. The research survey gathers information from commercial and non-commercial facilities handling wild animal species to ensure they are equipped with an understanding of the risks that they encounter in their daily operations. Facilities in Thailand have already been surveyed and the project team will next visit facilities in Lao PDR, Sabah State of Malaysia and Viet Nam.
In addition, UNEP will conduct a review of the legal and policy frameworks in these countries, to inform recommendations on national guidelines to be adopted to improve biosafety standards and reduce the risk of zoonotic disease transmission through wildlife crime.
A recording of the side event at CITES CoP19 is available here.
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The SAFE project is implemented by the UNODC Environment Team in cooperation with the United Nations Environment Programme and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, and benefits from the financial support of the European Union.