A drive to prevent emerging zoonotic risks and diseases such as COVID-19 has been unveiled and is being led by France.

The Preventing Zoonotic Diseases Emergence (PREZODE) initiative was announced at the One Planet Summit for Biodiversity on Jan. 11. Zoonotic diseases or zoonoses are caused by germs that spread between animals and people and can be foodborne.

Three French institutes have teamed up with 10 other research bodies in France, Germany and the Netherlands on the project that involves more than 1,000 researchers in 50 countries. These institutes are the Agricultural Research Centre for International Development (CIRAD), National Research Institute for Agriculture, Food and Environment (INRAE) and Research Institute for Development (IRD).

Ready to go in 2022
Others involved are the French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health and Safety (ANSES), Institut Pasteur, the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research (INSERM), the Friedrich-Loeffler-Institut in Germany and Wageningen University in the Netherlands.

The five pillars of PREZODE are zoonotic risk analysis; reducing zoonotic risk; early detection and evaluation of socioeconomic impacts; an international zoonotic risk monitoring system and stakeholder engagement and development of regional health and biodiversity networks.

This year, PREZODE will outline a scientific and strategic plan of action, create a governance system, and draw up a roadmap with performance indicators. A digital platform for collecting and sharing data will also be set up with stakeholders. A program of research and concrete action will be ready to go in 2022.

It is designed to incorporate and reinforce networks on human health, animal welfare and the environment in line with the One Health approach. Efforts should ultimately lead to identifying and reducing the main factors at the root of emerging zoonosis risks.

Researchers said science needs to stay a step ahead of future health crises by anticipating the risks of emerging diseases and detecting them early on, so steps can be taken before disease spreads.

Wider support
QU Dongyu, Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Director-General, backed the program to map, assess and mitigate the risks of potentially emergent zoonotic pathogens.

He offered use of the Joint FAO/WHO Center – which works on food safety, animal diseases and antimicrobial resistance and the center on Nuclear Techniques in Food and Agriculture run by FAO and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen welcomed the PREZODE initiative.

“When temperatures rise and nature disappears, we suffer more natural disasters and zoonotic diseases. We will invest several hundred million euros over the next four years for research: on biodiversity, animal health, emerging diseases and much more,” she said.

Gavin Edwards, global coordinator, new deal for nature and people at WWF, said work to help prevent the next pandemic was vital.

“Linking the health of people, animals and our shared environment under a One Health approach can drive governments to take stronger and more urgent action for wildlife, and to tackle the ongoing loss of nature through unsustainable agriculture. While the world is still within the grip of the worst pandemic in a century, never has it been more important that we do everything we can to prevent the next one.”

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