The first evidence that climate change may be related to the Covid-19 pandemic is beginning to emerge. And other pandemics could be on the way as the climate crisis worsens, researchers explain.
Therefore, one of the debates during COP26 was about a global health system to face the problem. A study published in May this year, in the journal “Science of The Total Environment”, drew a parallel between the behavior of bats and climate change.
The researchers point out that one of the impacts of the environmental crisis was the change in the global distribution of bats, the likely zoonotic origin of several coronaviruses (CoVs) that infect humans, including SARS-CoV-1 and SARS-CoV-2, which caused large-scale epidemics.
According to the research, the number of coronaviruses present in an area is related to the local richness of bat species, intensified by climatic conditions and changes in the animals’ habitat. They showed that Yunnan province in southern China and neighboring regions in Myanmar and Laos form a global hotspot of increasing bat wealth.
There was also growth in Central Africa, South America and Central America. The Asian region coincides with the probable spatial origin of the ancestors of SARS-CoV-1 and SARS-CoV-2 transmitted by bats.
The researchers accounted for an estimated increase in the order of 100 CoVs transmitted by bats across the region.” There is only one study. So it’s premature to assert [que as mudanças climáticas têm relação com a pandemia da Covid-19], but climate change generates an indirect effect, which is the change in the ecosystem in which these animals live.
They often need to migrate to survive. This increases the interaction of some animals with man and could bring about new pandemics”, explains Renata Gracie, a researcher at ICICT/Fiocruz.
Environmental degradation and health problems
Henderson Wanderley, professor at the Forestry Institute at UFRRJ, explains that the increase in temperature and humidity, caused by the accumulation of CO2 in the atmosphere, would have made the regions of Wuhan, which had bushes, to develop the ecosystem for savannas and forests. “When you look at this aspect, you identify the relationship between the emergence of this pandemic and others (with climate change).”
The researcher says that, with the increase in global temperature, the Arctic region will melt and may release dormant bacteria and viruses in organic matter found in the deep layers of ice – and currently have no contact with human beings.
He also explains that, with climate change, climate variability increases, causing extreme events and diseases linked to lack or excess of water. Wanderley remembers the drought, in 2014 and 2015, when there was an outbreak of dengue in São Paulo.”Since there was no water, the population started to store it and did not take proper care. This favored mosquito reproduction.”
Regions that become flooded with the rains can cause the transmission of diseases such as leptospirosis, for example. In addition to climate change, another factor is the direct degradation of the environment, especially in areas that surround urban centers.
In the case of the Covid-19 study, the bat also migrates because the area it inhabited was impacted.” Bats were highlighted because of SARS-CoV-2, but we are changing the habitats not only of them, but of many insects that carry viruses and bacteria. the potential [de desastre] it is very big”, assesses Paulo Artaxo, professor at the Physics Institute of the University of São Paulo and member of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC).
He recalls that diseases such as Ebola and chikungunya came from the destruction of tropical forests. “We have thousands of viruses in the Amazon that are unknown to science and can come into contact with humans if we continue with the deforestation”, he says.
Coexistence between humans and other organisms
Some researchers warn that the problem also involves the alienation of human beings from the dynamics we cause on the planet. Carlos Walter Porto-Gonçalves, coordinator of the Laboratory for the Study of Social Movements and Territorialities at UFF.
Jean Segata, a professor at UFRGS, draws attention to the detachment of human beings in relation to their relationship with other beings of nature. The researcher studies health anthropology and remembers that the environment has always been seen as something external and that the history of humanity is detached from the relationship with animals, plants and microorganisms. “We have this desire for asepsis and control, but our worlds have always been involved”, he analyzes.
Segata explains that before, the discussion around pandemics was about risk groups and behaviors, as in the case of HIV. With environmental degradation, the current discussion is about the ‘syndemic’, which combines the terms pandemic and synergy, a concept created by Merril Singer.
It is a macro view that considers biological, social and economic factors when thinking about risky environments, such as those that would have caused the impact of Covid-19. In a synemic situation, there is the interaction of two or more diseases that can cause greater damage .
Social and environmental conditions can bring comorbidities closer or make the population vulnerable. This happens, for example, with the interaction of Covid-19 with other conditions, such as diabetes, cancer and heart problems. Furthermore, socioeconomic factors increase the vulnerability of certain population groups.
The study on Covid-19 and climate change suggests environmental measures to prevent new pandemics like the one we are experiencing. For researchers, it is crucial to protect natural habitats, impose strong regulations on hunting and trade in wild animals, establish adequate standards of animal welfare on farms, markets and transport vehicles.
They also warn of the need to discourage medicinal and food practices that involve the consumption of species with a high risk of transmission, such as bats.
For Professor Henderson Wanderley, we need to reinforce actions against climate change and environmental degradation together. Zeroing deforestation, for example, prevents the migration of species that can be vectors of diseases.
“Even if I protect the forests, it’s no use not doing anything about the climate and letting it change”. For this, mitigating actions are needed to curb greenhouse gas emissions and stabilize the temperature. It is essential to abandon the energy matrix based on fossil fuels and convert it to low-carbon energy sources, such as wind, solar and biomass.
Global governance for health
A global problem like climate change demands global solutions. Experts point out that the pandemic has highlighted the need for a global health system to quickly deal with pandemics.
“There is a certain gap and detachment between the ongoing phenomena and the pandemic itself and the governance system available in the world system to respond to the problem”, assesses Carlos Walter Porto-Gonçalves.
The professor understands that the pandemic drew attention because we are in a common environment, in a dynamic marked by an individualistic logic, based on large companies that have immense power and states are less and less powerful.
For him, these are fundamental problems for governance in global health. A pandemic like Covid-19 cannot be resolved with individual decisions by countries. Renata Gracie, from Fiocruz, says that the Covid-19 pandemic brought many lessons in this context.
Different from HIV, respiratory diseases have a very fast type of transmission and generate an immense impact, such as social isolation. Containing the spread is more difficult, as we saw at the time of H1N1. “This is not the first time we have experienced a pandemic. Unfortunately, we don’t learn from what happened. As serious as it was, I hope you learn now”.
The researcher cited the need for a global health system with more agile alerts to be able to direct people and resources. Another issue is the data. Gracie explained that each country has a different system that makes compatibility with other countries and a global harmonization of data difficult.
She gave as an example the lack of testing in Brazil to define the actual number of Covid-19 cases. Ultimately, countries would have to adopt the same standards for a more consistent global assessment. “Poor countries would not have resources. Rich countries need to pay more.”
Reference: CNN Brasil