Viruses from Africa’s Rainforest are a Threat to Humanity
credit: Sam Kiley, Ingrid Formanek and Ivana Kottasová
According to Professor Jean-Jacques Muyeme Tamfum, “We are now in a world where new pathogens will come out.” Professor Tamfum was one of the researchers who uncovered the Ebola virus in 1976.
In an interview with CNN, Muyembe believes future pandemics could be worse than COVID-19 and more apocalyptic.
HIV emerged from a type of chimpanzee and mutated into a world-wide modern plague. SARS, MERS, and the Covid-19 virus known as SARS-CoV-2 are all coronaviruses that jumped to humans from unknown “reservoirs” — the term virologists use for virus’ natural hosts — in the animal kingdom. Covid-19 is thought to have originated in China, possibly in bats.
Since the first animal-to-human infection, yellow fever was identified in 1901, scientists have found at least 200 viruses known to cause disease in humans. According to research by Mark Woolhouse, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at the University of Edinburgh, new species of viruses are being discovered at a rate of three to four a year. The majority of them originate from animals.
Experts say the rising number of emerging viruses is mostly the result of ecological destruction and wildlife trade.
As their natural habitats disappear, animals like rats, bats, and insects survive, where larger animals get wiped out. They can live alongside human beings and are frequently suspected of being the vectors that can carry new diseases to humans.
Scientists have linked past Ebola outbreaks to a heavy human incursion into the rainforest. In one 2017 study, researchers used satellite data to determine that 25 of the 27 Ebola outbreaks located along the limits of the rainforest biome in Central and West Africa between 2001 and 2014 began in places with experienced deforestation for about two years prior. They added that zoonotic Ebola outbreaks appeared in areas where human population density was high and the virus has favorable conditions. The relative importance of forest loss is partially independent of these factors.
In the first 14 years of the 21st century, an area larger than the size of Bangladesh was felled in the Congo River basin rainforest.
The United Nations has warned that if the current deforestation and population growth trends continue, the country’s rainforest may have disappeared entirely by the end of the century. As that happens, animals and the viruses they carry will collide with people in new and often disastrous ways.
It does not have to be this way.
A multidisciplinary group of scientists based across the US, China, Kenya, and Brazil has calculated that a global investment of $30 billion a year into projects to protect rainforests, halt the wildlife trade and farming would be enough to offset the cost of preventing future pandemics. African leaders will also need to invest in their healthcare systems and move away from believing false claims, including Madagascar’s fake covid drink.