COVID-19: The Day Before

· Q&A ·

What are the linkages between global environmental change, COVID-19 and the progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals?

This was the main question of the seminar hosted by Cathryn Tonn, an environmental epidemiologist and associate research professor at the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal).

For this interesting seminar, we had the opportunity to listen to Josep María Antó, Professor of epidemiology at ISGlobal and UPF; David Savitz, from Brown University (USA); Fernando Valladares, from CSIC; and Júlia Vergara, from IRTA-CRESA.

Josep proposed a planetary health framework to explore the role of the environment as part of the proximal and distal causes of the Covid-19 pandemic. In order to understand the causes of the pandemic we need to approach the problem as an interplay between infection and environment. This includes factors such as climate, air pollution and biodiversity loss.

He also provided an overview of why Covid-19 should be seen as a planetary health issue. From his perspective, Covid-19 is not a random crisis: it is an unprecedented one and it reveals a context of global negligence in public health. Research, translation, implementation and education are crucial to lead the way. And finally, the planetary health approach provides how both proximal and distant factors are related to the appearance of the Covid-19.

The globalization of the economy has not been followed by a strengthening of global health.

Josep María Antó

According to David Savitz, the causes behind what causes infectious diseases and what causes their spread need to be looked at from different disciplines, which generally are very separate both in universities and in public arenas. Not many people make the connection between pollution and the current crisis. However, infectious diseases are environmental diseases.

Climate change is of compelling importance. There are many diseases based on climate and weather, such as floods, and the expanding range of tropical areas. The diseases originating from this are quite predictable but still serve as an illustration: “We can anticipate and avoid them, but mainly to be prepared and ready to mitigate problems that are in progress”.

In Fernando Valladares’s words, we cannot say that science did not know. In this case, i.e. Allen et al 2017 warned that the Wuhan area was one of the hot spots for infection. The factors that produced the Covid-19 virus are a combination of new and old: biology and ecosystem biology has been neglected in climatic models. Without biology we cannot make good predictions.

According to Júlia Vergara there are several lessons we have learned from different viruses and the relations between humans and viruses. Zoonotic disease represents more than 60% of all human infectious diseases (virus, bacterial and others.). To understand why a disease can emerge and reemerge we need to think that humans are responsible: Human environment, increase of population, mobility as well as growing poverty, lack of infrastructure, non-regulated tourism etc.


Introduction to the series. COVID-19 and Planetary Health. 

Josep María Antó

Global environmental pollution and resilience to infections. 

David Savitz

Land use change and biodiversity loss – the scenario for COVID-19. 

Fernando Valladares

Lessons from SARS, Ebola, Nipah – how our relationship with other animals got us here. 

Júlia Vergara

Questions and answers

David Savitz (Brown University) answered some of the questions asked by the public before and during the session.

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