*Maria Kolesnikova in front of the White House in Kyrgyzstan (Photo: UN Women, Samat Barataliev)

Isabella Refalo from the University of Technology Sydney (UTS) and Suyuna Dadybaeva from the University of Central Asia Kyrgyzstan, talked to experts about the role of interconnected human and environmental health approaches in battling global health disasters, such as COVID-19.

As lockdown restrictions ease around the world, experts say preventing another global health crisis will depend on a unified approach to planet and population health.

Environmental activist Maria Kolesnikova, the head of the green movement in Kyrgyzstan, is an advocate for the One Health Global Action Plan developed by the World Health Organization (WHO) in collaboration with the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) and the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE).

“[One Health] is fundamental to influencing public opinion and sharing awareness of the greater likelihood of future pandemics if sustainable development is neglected,” Ms Kolesnikova said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the One Health agenda recognises that:

“…the health of people is closely connected to the health of animals and our shared environment”.

Part of that strategy is recognising ecological destruction from climate change, land clearing and loss of biodiversity, increases the risk of transmittable diseases such as COVID-19.

In the case of Central Asia, these conditions are compounded by a lack of awareness about sustainable development issues.

Maria Kolesnikova (Photo: movegreen.kg/en/about/)

“[Environmental awareness] is not written in the region’s cultural code because [Central Asia] has been lucky not to suffer from crises of civilisations, limits to growth [and] natural resources availability,” Ms Kolesnikova said.

While Australia has also benefited from an abundance of natural resources, the preservation of animal habitats must be high on the agenda in any unified approach to battling future health pandemics and the climate crisis, according to Western Sydney University Zoologist Associate Professor Julie Old.

“[Maintaining animal habitats] will reduce the impacts on animal and human health resulting from climate change,” she said.

This is because animal welfare and habitat preservation reduce the risk of “zoonotic transfer” – when a virus jumps from animals to humans – as is the common trajectory of nearly all emerging pathogens – including COVID-19.

However, preventing future global health pandemics will require not just an interconnected One Health approach but also a shift in government focus towards environmental sustainability.

According to the leader of the Climate Justice Research program at the University of New South Wales Professor Jeremy Moss, this is highly unlikely.

“[The Australian Government] seems to be dominated by fossil fuel friendly interests,” he said.

“One example of that is their COVID-19 commission, which according to a leaked report… is going to recommend a gas-led recovery… which is not climate friendly at all.”

The National COVID Coordination Commission (NCCC) comprises a team of industry and business leaders selected by the Prime Minister’s Office to lead the nation’s economic recovery.

The draft report obtained by the ABC revealed plans for subsidising costs and investments for gas companies.

One of the contributors to the recovery is the board director of the world’s biggest polluter, Saudi Aramco – an energy and gas company. Professor Moss believes this is an indicator that Australia “isn’t taking climate change too seriously”.

For Ms Kolesnikova, while the focus remains on “short-term results and economic growth”, a unified population and planet health strategy remains out of reach and the risk of another global health pandemic all the more likely.

Isabella Refalo @bella_refalo