Global call to ban wet markets in wake of Covid-19 pandemic

By Tanya Waterworth Time of article published May 2, 2020

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Durban - There has been growing pressure on the World Health Organization (WHO) from wildlife and animal organisations across the globe in the wake of the devastating Covid-19 pandemic to formally support an international ban on wildlife markets, because they pose “a severe risk to global health”.

The source of the pandemic has been linked to a wet market in Wuhan, China, where live wildlife was sold.

On Tuesday, an open letter signed by 339 leading animal welfare and conservation organisations from around the world was sent to the WHO.

This followed an initial letter sent on April 6 by 241 organisations which called on the WHO to state the proven link between wildlife markets and their serious threat to human health.

At a media briefing on April 17, the WHO’s Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called on governments to “rigorously enforce bans on the sale and trade of wildlife for food”.

But he fell short of calling for a global prohibition of the commercial trade in wildlife and to close markets that sell live wild animals or products for purposes such as traditional medicines. “Wet markets are an important source of affordable food and livelihood for millions of people all over the world. But in many places, they have been poorly regulated and poorly maintained,” said Ghebreyesus.

The WHO’s position is that when these markets are allowed to reopen, it should only be on the condition that they conform to stringent food and safety and hygiene standards,” added Ghebreyesus.

In an interview with the UK’s BBC, WHO special envoy on Covid-19, Dr David Nabarro, was more succinct, saying that while the organisation’s advice to China was to close the wildlife markets, “it’s the advice everywhere, this is dangerous”, but he added that the WHO did “not have the capacity to police the world”.

Among the 339 signatories of this week’s letter to the WHO was Durban-based Blue Sky Society Trust founder, Carla Geyser.

The organisation is dedicated to conservation, wildlife protection and community upliftment.

Geyser said this week: “Wildlife markets are cruel and brutal, and involve the selling of wild animals for food, pets and sometimes for traditional medicines. These markets have been implicated by many scientists and researchers over the past few years as initiators of previous pandemics and not much has been done by local governments worldwide to regulate them thereafter.

“The fact that you have so many different species interacting within horrific conditions and within close proximity to humans, has allowed the spread of diseases to happen quickly and more frequently. The stalls with a multitude of animals and wildlife can be near each other, with no physical separation, and this has become a breeding ground for these viruses, that seem to be evolving and mutating and becoming more destructive.

“This Covid-19 pandemic has once again highlighted the dangers of these markets. I firmly believe that the only way forward is to enforce a global ban on these illegal and unregulated wildlife markets selling wild animals or products. There are alternative food sources and traditional medicines, and I think the government needs to update its policies and clamp down to prevent another catastrophe like this pandemic from happening again,” she said.

Also Durban based, the Lawrence Anthony Earth Organisation’s director, Yvette Taylor, said they stood firmly behind the call to ban wildlife markets.

“The Lawrence Anthony Earth Organisation has been a signatory on the ‘Asia for Animals Coalition’ as well as the ‘Global March for Elephants and Rhinos’ for some time. Collectively, we have all been fighting for the end in the global illegal trade in wildlife.

“The systematic plunder of Africa to supply these markets must be stopped; it has made criminals of African people who participate in poaching, and will lead to an ecosystem collapse which will further threaten food security.

“The trade in wildlife has now impacted the entire planet and is likely to create poverty and suffering as a result. It is time that the world stood together to end this barbaric practice. Wildlife markets must be permanently closed,” Taylor said this week.

The open letter from conservation and wildlife protection organisations worldwide highlighted that infectious diseases, which involve transmission from animals to humans (zoonotic diseases), included the Mers and Sars coronaviruses; Ebola; HIV; bovine tuberculosis; and rabies; among others.

“Zoonotic diseases are responsible for more than 2 billion cases of human illness and over 2 million human deaths each year. This includes livestock farming.

“Sixty percent of emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic, and 70% of these are thought to originate from wildlife. The risk of zoonotic disease transmission is heightened further by the unregulated and unhygienic conditions associated with the wildlife markets, where close proximity between humans and animals provide the perfect opportunity for pathogens to spread,” stated the letter.

The appeal requested the WHO to “publicly and unequivocally state the proven link between these markets and serious threats to human health... We urge the WHO to recommend that governments worldwide permanently ban wildlife markets, and the use of wildlife in traditional medicine”.

It said: “This decisive action, well within the WHO’s mandate, would be an impactful first step in adopting a highly precautionary approach to wildlife trade that poses a risk to human health.”

The Independent on Saturday

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