Research calls for governance of wildlife trade in pandemic treaty

Black woman typing on a laptop

Researchers from York University’s Faculty of Health have co-authored a study investigating the governance of pandemic prevention in the context of wildlife trade.

Published in The Lancet Planetary Health, the research considers the current institutional landscape for pandemic prevention and how prevention of zoonotic spillovers from the wildlife trade for human consumption should be incorporated into a pandemic treaty.

Raphael Aguiar
Raphael Aguiar
Adrian Viens
Adrian Viens
Mary Wiktorowicz

Professors Mary Wiktorowicz and A.M. Viens, along with doctoral candidate Raphael Aguiar, collaborated on the research with colleagues from the University of Washington. The researchers argue that a pandemic treaty should be “explicit about zoonotic spillover prevention and focus on improving coordination across four policy domains, namely public health, biodiversity conservation, food security, and trade.”

A pandemic treaty, they say, should include four interacting goals in relation to prevention of zoonotic spillovers from the wildlife trade for human consumption: risk understanding; risk assessment; risk reduction; and enabling funding.

Ideas about preventative actions for pandemics have been advanced during COVID-19, but researchers say more consideration on how these actions can be operationalized, with respect to wildlife trade for human consumption, is needed.

“To date, pandemic governance has mostly focused on outbreak surveillance, containment, and response rather than on avoiding zoonotic spillovers in the first place,” the study states. “However, given the acceleration of globalization, a paradigm shift towards prevention of zoonotic spillovers is warranted as containment of outbreaks becomes unfeasible.”

According to Raphael, “A risk-based approach to wildlife trade and its interconnected threats can be used to situate the governance of pandemic prevention in relation to their shared causal pathways. This approach enables more efficient coordination of responses.”

Trade-offs must be carefully balanced to meet multiple objectives, says Wiktorowicz. For instance, while bans on all wildlife trade could reduce health risks, they may undermine access to food for some local and indigenous populations around the world and alter incentives for sustainable land use.

“Pandemic prevention at source needs to be based on a better understanding of how interaction with wildlife increases health risks to humans along the entire trade chain, so that overregulation does not occur,” says Wiktorowicz.

The researchers note that containment of zoonotic outbreaks and prevention of spillovers into pandemics could become more difficult to manage with increased globalization and urbanization, and this calls for an international institutional arrangement that accounts specifically for these possibilities.

“The current pandemic treaty negotiations present an opportunity for a multilateral approach, to address deep prevention,” adds Viens.

Read the full study “Global governance for pandemic prevention and the wildlife trade.”

Wiktorowicz and co-author Eduardo Gallo Cajiao (University of Washington) will present the paper in a seminar at the Dahdaleh Institute for Global Health Research on April 26 at 1 p.m. See the event listing online for more information and details on how to attend.