SLU news

How to prevent the next pandemic?

Published: 16 June 2022
 People with face masks discuss cultivations.

A new EU-project aims to prevent future pandemics by identifying best practices for biodiversity recovery and public health interventions that mitigate disease risk.

Epidemics and pandemics – most of them caused by zoonotic and vector-borne emerging diseases – are globally threatening our health and welfare at an alarming pace. Prevention of future disease outbreaks will be pivotal to secure human welfare. “Biodiversity-is-good-for-our-health” has become a new paradigm in disease risk mitigation. Consequently, nature restoration targeting biodiversity recovery – isolated or in combination with public health interventions – has been identified as a major disease risk mitigation tool.

– While there are thousands of ongoing and planned nature restoration projects globally, there is uncertainty whether such restorations indeed mitigate disease risk or if they rather amplify it. So far, there are no identified success factors characterizing restorations that mitigate disease risk, says Frauke Ecke, coordinator of the project.

 Watercourse with poisonous green water and rubbish.
Open sewer systems are a source of infectious agents. Photo: Frauke Ecke
Sewer.
By building a sewer, the contact between infectious agents, spreaders such as rats and humans is reduced. Photo: Frauke Ecke
Beaver pond.
Nature-based solutions such as beaver dam can be a solution but also a possible source of infection. Photo: Frauke Ecke

The project will address this lack in knowledge and provide practical guidance. In spatially and temporally replicated field studies and experiments in 11 case studies in Europe and the tropics, the project aims to reveal the causal mechanisms of infection dynamics and how to interrupt infection pathways.

– In the project, we will apply a participatory and multi-actor approach by actively involving local communities, which will enable us to identify success factors of best practice restorations and interventions, emphasizes Frauke Ecke.

Nature-based solutions including reintroduction of ecosystem engineers and small-sized predators are a key feature of the project, which will guide future biodiversity recovery measures that promote healthy ecosystems and that prevent disease outbreaks.

Facts:

The 8 M€ Horizon Europe project is coordinated by University of Helsinki, involves 14 partners from Finland, Sweden, France, The Netherlands, UK, Belgium, Germany, Italy, Columbia, Brazil and Tanzania and will last for 4.5 years.