Preserve biodiversity to reduce emerging diseases

Emerging infectious diseases affect millions of people around the world every year. These are new pathologies like Covid-19 which are estimated to be responsible for between 6 and 15 million deaths. Other well-known diseases, the occurrence of which increases sharply during epidemics – such as Ebola – are also considered to be emerging. A large part of these pathologies are transmitted from animals to humans, we speak of zoonoses.

Better understand the connections between biodiversity and health

Health authorities are concerned about global changes affecting biodiversity. And with good reason: human health and biodiversity are closely linked. ” Human activities and deforestation increase contact between humans, domestic and wild animals, explains Julien Cappelle, health ecologist at CIRAD and coordinator of the BCOMING project. These new stitches multiply the possibilities for disease transmission to humans “.
There is also another mechanism that promotes the development of certain zoonoses such as the West Nile virus. ” When ecosystem diversity is reduced, pathogens spread more between individuals of the same species, increasing our exposure ‘ continues Julien Cappelle.

A better understanding of the mechanisms that promote the development of infectious diseases is essential. This is the goal pursued by the BCOMING project (Biodiversity Conservation to Mitigate therisks of emerging infectious diseases). ” Our goal is to develop strategies for biodiversity conservation and disease surveillance to reduce the risk of occurrence ‘, explains Julien Cappelle.

The means ? 14 partners around the world and €6 million in funding from the Horizon Europe programme. CIRAD coordinates everything thanks to its expertise in the links between the overall health of ecosystems and biodiversity to reduce infectious diseases. The BCOMING project will start in August 2022 for a period of six years and will benefit from the PREZODE label, an international initiative to build resilient socio-ecosystems.

Three countries, seven pathogens, two milestones

The project focuses on seven pathogens that are widespread in three study areas: Cambodia (Sars-cov-2), Guinea (Ebola, Marburg and Lassa) and Guadeloupe (West Nile). Trematode worms and coronaviruses found in each of the areas are also being studied. These countries are all characterized by a very rich biodiversity: tropical zones are identified as hotspots for the risk of the occurrence of zoonoses.
The choice was also made because of socio-cultural differences and the partnerships and projects that are already in progress, adds Julien Cappelle. This diversity will allow us to test a new standardized approach that is applicable anywhere in the world and can adapt to local constraints. »

There are two steps to achieve the goals:

• Improving knowledge about the occurrence of zoonoses

Scientists will strive to collect ecological, socioeconomic, environmental and epidemiological data, thanks in particular to new tools for rapid detection of pathogens in the field. ” This data is analyzed in an innovative way, Details Julien Cappelle. One of our goals is therefore to better assess the impact of human practices on disease transmission, a number of crucial factors that are still poorly understood today. This first step will lead to the development of a standardized approach that will benefit the entire scientific community working on the mechanisms of zoonoses.

• Prevent the occurrence of zoonoses

So-called agent-centric models are used to integrate project data. ” They make it possible to simulate the transmission of diseases between animals and the population ‘ says Julien Cappelle. They are used to test different biodiversity protection strategies or new surveillance systems to reduce the risk of disease outbreaks.

An innovative participatory approach

These models will be valuable within the BCOMING project. ” The originality of the project is based on our participatory approach, which brings together all local, regional and national actors, says Julien Cappelle. The agent-centered models will serve as a basis for discussion to establish prevention practices adapted to each study site. “. All decision-makers – local communities, NGOs or even national authorities – will benefit from these concrete solutions to prevent the occurrence of zoonoses.

Now in the program? The start of the project in August 2022, immediately followed by the finalization of the collection protocols and the first model developments. ” Meeting all our partners will allow us to complete this upstream phase and start the process of joint construction concludes the researcher.

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