Planetary Health: Efforts to Overcome Health Vulnerabilities in the Future

Disclaimer: This article was written to participate in The Conversation Indonesia Popular Article Writing Competition 2022 and get an Honorable Mention. This article is an early version of the author (pre-published), which will be republished through a review and editorial process typical of The Conversation Indonesia.

At least 10,000 species of viruses can infect humans, but most of the viruses are circulating secretly in wild mammals. The spread of this virus are driven by climate change and land use which provides opportunities for virus exchange between previously geographically isolated wildlife species (mammals).

Carlson and colleagues conducted simulations of possible future virus exchanges using logographic models of  mammalian viral tissues and projections of geographic range shifts for 3,139 mammal species with climate change scenarios and limited green forest areas by 2070. This study also predicted that species will gather in one place with high altitude characteristics, full of biodiversity, and in areas with high human population densities, such as in Asia and Africa. This potential and combination will lead to cross-species transmission 4,000 times greater than the future viruses carried naturally by mammals.

Virus Spread from Bats Related to Climate Crisis

The ability of mammals the spread viruses between species is influenced by their ability and cruising power to move to new appropriate locations and environments. Therefore, Research on mammalian migration patterns to the spread of viruses between species is limited by the potential for flightless species.

In the pedigree of the spread of mammals as reservoirs that host viruses, bats have a unique ability. They have the capacity for transcontinental movement with their migration patterns. Bats account for most of the spread of the new virus and will likely continue to share the virus along the evolutionary path. This will facilitate the appearance of some viruses in the future in humans.

The important findings from the predictions made by Carlson, et al more specifically state that this ecological transition pattern is likely to have been going on for a long time and with what many have done to contain global climate warming below 2 °C in the 21st century will not reduce the spread of the virus in the future.

The impact of the climate crisis on human health was also explained by Camilo Mora , a colleague of the University of Hawaii at Manoa, their scientific article published in The Conversation titled “58% of human infectious diseases can be exacerbated by climate change — we explored 77,000 studies to map the course” . This article provides further evidence of the worse impacts of the climate crisis on the health of major infectious diseases. Of at least 375 human diseases, 218 of them or more than half of them can be affected by climate crises.

Planetary Health: Address Future Health Vulnerabilities

Most science fiction film stories are dominated by dystopian views (conditions of decay) about the future. The apocalyptic black comedy, Don’t Look U , for example, tells the story of a scientist who discovers a comet heading towards Earth with the potential to cause the extinction of this living being. This film then becomes a metaphor for all parties in overcoming complex problems that threaten the earth, such as the climate crisis and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Several holistic and interdisciplinary approaches already exist, to serve as a frame of reference for overcoming health crisis situations. There are at least three most influential models to date, namely One Health, EcoHealth and Planetary Health. This approach may seem the same, as they all promote a thought that humans and animal species share the same planetary conditions, environment, infection susceptibility and health aspects. But these three concepts and approaches have different focuses and values,

One Health is described as an approach that combines the study of public health sciences and veterinary medicine. In health studies, further the EcoHealth approach  has more focus on biodiversity, with an emphasis on all living things, including parasites, unicellular organisms, and it is also possible that viruses have value and deserve attention in efforts to maintain human health. However, with the increasing vulnerability of the world as a result of the adverse impacts of the climate crisis, these two approaches are considered insufficient to encourage cooperation between parties to ensure a health situation for the world’s population.

A new paradigm is called Planetary Health formulated by the Planetary Health Alliance (PHA).  Planetary Health is a solution-oriented, transdisciplinary study and a social movement that focuses on analyzing and addressing the impacts caused by humans on the earth’s natural systems on human health and all life on Earth. This approach is considered useful for dealing with growing and complex threats in the field of health, and globally (between countries) is no exception.

With Planetary Health, it is hoped that all the world’s population can have the same awareness to restore the natural system of our planet to a natural situation. This is done at least to avoid greater damage to the earth and have an impact on human health in the future. On the basis of this common awareness, the Sau Paulo Declaration was born  on October 6, 2021, the recommendations of this cross-sectoral declaration are the result of the annual meeting of the planetary health alliance which was attended globally by nearly 350 participants from more than 70 countries supported by the United Nations (UN).  This declaration emerged based on the conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic which emerged as a signal that mutual awareness and solutions are needed for the sustainability of the earth.

However, the Planetary Health declaration  is considered to still be unable to answer the overall risk response to the health crisis in the future. The narrative available today is more accepted that forest destruction, rapid urganization and population growth are driving zoonotic events. Zoonoses ostensibly occur only as a result of increased contact between humans and animals. Plus genomic analysis cannot be used to predict the mechanistic relationship between changes in the global environment and the emergence of pandemics, mainly due to the scarcity of empirical data and reliance on reviewing studies and databases.

Therefore a considerable change of framework is needed to change this situation. It is necessary to carry out a comprehensive integration of Planetary Health throughout the world’s scientific community, clear and open research governance and encourage interdisciplinary links with issues of the climate crisis, which are currently the most direct threat to the life (biosphere) of our planet. The programs that should be carried out by all stakeholders of the world are to combine the dynamics of ecosystems, including wildlife, infectious diseases, exposure to harmful substances, food supply, and human health. Holistic interdisciplinary programs like this are the only way we have to prevent vulnerabilities and health crises to achieve the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).


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