IUCN Statement | 07 Oct, 2014

Ebola outbreak highlights critical links between biodiversity loss and human health says IUCN’s Wildlife Health Specialist Group

IUCN statement delivered by Dr Jane Smart, Global Director of IUCN’s Biodiversity Conservation Group, to the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) conference currently taking place in the Republic of Korea.

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Photo: IUCN Photo Library © Jim Thorsell

The world is currently facing a devastating crisis with the outbreak of the Ebola disease.

Yet the wider world is probably not aware of the ways in which the underlying drivers of disease are linked to development and biodiversity loss; the connections are rarely made.

However the links are there and IUCN is of the view that the CBD needs to show leadership on this issue and draw attention to the fact that it is crucial to demonstrate how habitat change and associated biodiversity loss and human health are connected. It is of fundamental importance to explain clearly how an ‘upstream’ approach to protect both human health and biodiversity is absolutely essential.

For example, it is not widely appreciated, even amongst biodiversity experts, that land use change through deforestation is the leading driver of disease emergence in humans.

Of course, habitat change also threatens food security and deprives human populations of access to traditional medicines, as well as fundamentally changing ecosystem functioning.

In the specific case of Ebola, the virus is highly devastating to both human and Great Ape populations, representing both a human health and biodiversity threat. Ebola outbreaks have occurred from hunting and consumption of infected wildlife, which in turn poses a pressure on wild populations. The cause of the initial ‘spill over event’ is not clearly known for this outbreak but landscape change in the affected area is significant in recent years.

The conservation and health community can work together to address drivers of disease and biodiversity loss in a coordinated fashion to promote a ‘One Health’ approach.

Towards this goal, further discussion on health and biodiversity planned for the IUCN World Parks Congress next month will be extremely timely.

During the Congress sessions we will discuss proactive tools for mitigating disease risks, such as the IUCN and World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) Guidelines on Wildlife Disease Risks Analysis, as well as the many health-promoting ecosystem services.

Meanwhile the Wildlife Health Specialist Group of IUCN’s Species Survival Commission and IUCN Member organisation EcoHealth Alliance are urgently working on the scientific connections between humans, animals and environmental health.

IUCN now strongly encourages the CBD to work with these groups and other partners to optimise the networks dedicated to investigating and taking action on strong health and biodiversity synergies. IUCN stands ready to support this work.

IUCN proposes that CBD develops a mechanism to facilitate scientific input from the biodiversity and health communities to support actions related to the health of the people of this planet.