“One Health” and nuance: the weapons against the next pandemic “- Belgium

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Those who have not yet made the link between the corona crisis and the destruction of our living environment belong to the minority. In our research on post-corona society among young adults, no less than 70% more effort is needed to protect nature. Let us wish that this is not an empty hope, because our destructive handling of flora and fauna – both wild and domestic – has indeed led to the worst pandemic of the past century. That realization, and the need to do something about it, seems to have come through. The key question is whether something will actually change: the wildlife trade is booming more than ever, both via wet as black markets, and livestock farming continues to industrialize at an unrestrained pace. We have certainly not learned lessons from the past: SARS-CoV-2 is already the 3e coronavirus causing a major outbreak in just 16 years, and wildlife is estimated to harbor an additional 1.67 million unknown viruses, including several thousand coronaviruses.

One health and nuance: the weapons against the next pandemic.

A second link that more than 60% of the respondents make is between the high toll of this virus and the lack of investment in disease prevention. After all, it quickly became clear that underlying diseases such as obesity greatly increase the risk of hospitalization and death from COVID-19. No surprise of course. Experts have been complaining about this for years and it is also the reason why I decided to hang my stethoscope on the hook last year. However, there is no shortage of recent recommendations; it is up to politicians to convert this into decisive policy. Policy that should look more broadly than just humans: the health of humans, the environment and animals must be regarded as one, the so-called One Health approach – a straightforward hand at Sciensano’s.

Based on these two clear insights, you could say with caution that this group of 25-35 year-olds has survived the parallel disinformation pandemic relatively well. The question remains how the rest of the population experienced the tsunami of conspiracy theories and sensational headlines. The adage seemed to be that apparent certainty is preferred to fair uncertainty: media reports of scientific studies are ahead of them peer-reviewed do not seem to know the concept of ‘advancing insight’ and do not bother to communicate the difference between a virologist (who examines the virus under a microscope), an infectiologist (who treats the patient with covid-19) and an epidemiologist ( which analyzes how the virus behaves in the population).

Indeed, out of laziness, everyone is given the title “virologist”, which makes it seem that one “virologist” contradicts another “virologist” an hour later, while the latter is an epidemiologist and her environment – and therefore perspective – is very different.

This confusing communication is encouraged by the lack of access to scientific information. It is hopeful, however 77% of our respondents believe it should be mandatory to share the results of scientific research openly and free of charge. This discussion has been held for years by the so-called Open Accessmovement, which rightly states that it is absurd for research to hide behind pay walls while it is funded with tax money. Since 2012, the European Commission has taken steps in the right direction, but the power of a handful of large publishers remains disproportionately large, making everything very slow to evolve.

More focus on prevention with a One Health-lens on the one hand and a more nuanced and complete (by Open Access) Communications from both scientists and media, on the other hand, will hopefully make us less susceptible to another combined virus misinformation pandemic.

Sam Proesmans is a physician and consultant, studied public health at Columbia University in New York and is a member of the Vrijdaggroep, a policy platform for young people of various backgrounds, supported by the King Baudouin Foundation.

Those who have not yet made the link between the corona crisis and the destruction of our living environment belong to the minority. In our research on post-corona society among young adults, no less than 70% more effort is needed to protect nature. Let us wish that this is not an empty hope, because our destructive handling of flora and fauna – both wild and domestic – has indeed led to the worst pandemic of the past century. That realization, and the need to do something about it, seems to have come through. The key question is whether something will actually change: the wildlife trade is rampant than ever, both through law and black markets, and livestock farming continues to industrialize at an unrestrained pace. We have by no means learned lessons from the past: SARS-CoV-2 is already the 3rd coronavirus to cause a major outbreak in just 16 years, and wild animals are home to an estimated 1.67 million unknown viruses, including several thousand coronaviruses. The link that more than 60% of the respondents make is between the high toll of this virus and the lack of investment in disease prevention. After all, it quickly became clear that underlying diseases such as obesity greatly increase the risk of hospitalization and death from COVID-19. No surprise of course. Experts have been complaining about this for years and it is also the reason why I decided to hang my stethoscope on the hook last year. However, there is no shortage of recent recommendations; it is up to politicians to convert this into decisive policy. A policy that should look more broadly than just humans: the health of humans, the environment and animals must be considered as a whole, the so-called One Health approach – a straightforward idea for Sciensano. Based on these two clear insights, be able to say with caution that this group of 25-35 year-olds has survived the parallel disinformation pandemic relatively well. The question remains how the rest of the population experienced the tsunami of conspiracy theories and sensational headlines. The adage seemed to be that apparent certainty is preferred to fair uncertainty: media reports of scientific studies before they are peer-reviewed do not seem to know the concept of ‘advancing insight’ and do not bother to communicate the difference between a virologist (who virus under a microscope), an infectiologist (who treats the patient with covid-19) and an epidemiologist (who analyzes how the virus behaves in the population). Indeed, out of laziness, everyone is given the title “virologist”, which makes it seem that one “virologist” contradicts another “virologist” an hour later, while the latter is an epidemiologist and her environment – and therefore perspective – is very different. This confusing communication is encouraged by the lack of access to scientific information. It is hopeful, however, that as many as 77% of our respondents believe that it should be mandatory to share the results of scientific research openly and free of charge. This discussion has been conducted for years by the so-called Open Access movement, which rightly states that it is absurd that research is hidden behind payment walls while it is funded with tax money. Since 2012, the European Commission has taken steps in the right direction, but the power of a handful of large publishers remains disproportionately large, making everything very slow to evolve. More focus on prevention with a One Health lens on the one hand and a more nuanced and more complete (through Open Access) communication from both scientists and media on the other, will hopefully make us less susceptible to a next combined virus-misinformation pandemic. Sam Proesmans is a physician and consultant, studied public health at Columbia University in New York and is a member of the Vrijdaggroep, a policy platform for young people of various backgrounds, supported by the King Baudouin Foundation.

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