Over 200 organizations from across the world, including World Animal Protection, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Humane Society International, Born Free and Wild Aid, have issued a letter urging the World Health Organization (WHO) to endorse a permanent ban on live wildlife markets and the use of wildlife in traditional medicine.
Sent on World Health Day (April 7, 2020), the letter highlights that with the suspected COVID-19 link to a wildlife market in China, the WHO must take action to achieve its mission to serve public health at all times by recommending that governments worldwide permanently ban live wildlife markets and the use of wildlife in traditional medicine.
These actions would help protect human life from future pandemics such as COVID-19. Sixty percent of emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic, meaning they originate from animals, and 70% of this is thought to originate from wild animals.
The letter states: “While a robust global response is critical in detecting, treating and reducing transmission [of COVID-19], it is equally necessary to take vital measures to prevent similar emerging infectious diseases developing into pandemics with the associated threats to human life, and social and economic well-being.”
A ban on wildlife markets is urgently needed, to prevent the unregulated and unhygienic conditions and the close proximity between humans and animals, providing the perfect opportunity for pathogens to spread.
This risk is further exacerbated by the cruel conditions in which animals are typically farmed or collected from the wild, transported to and held at such markets. This inevitably results in large numbers of different species being held in close proximity, causing immense stress and weakening of their immune systems.
Gilbert Sape, Head of Wildlife Not Medicine campaign at World Animal Protection said: “We all commend the WHO’s efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19. Given this pandemic is believed to have originated at a wildlife market, we’re calling on the WHO to unequivocally state the proven link between these markets and the serious threats they can cause to human health.
“The WHO can help prevent future pandemics by excluding the use of wildlife from their endorsement of traditional medicine. This could help save lives in the future and help protect millions of wild animals that are unnecessarily and cruelly farmed or poached from the wild to supply this industry. Plant based alternatives are recognised and available.”
These organisations strongly urge the WHO to:
- Recommend to governments worldwide that they institute a permanent ban on live wildlife markets, drawing an unequivocal link between these markets and their proven threats to human health.
- Recommend to governments that they address the potential risks to human health from the trade in wildlife – including collection from the wild, ranching, farming, transport, and trade through physical or online markets for any purpose – and act to close down or limit such trade in order to mitigate those risks.
- Unequivocally exclude the use of wildlife, including from captive bred specimens, in the WHO’s definition and endorsement of Traditional Medicine and revise the WHO’s 2014-2023 Traditional Medicine Strategy accordingly to reflect this change.
- Assist governments and lead a coordinated response among the World Trade Organisation, World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) and other multilateral organisations worldwide in awareness-raising activities to clearly inform of the risks of wildlife trade to public health, social cohesion, economic stability, law and order, and individual health.
- Support and encourage initiatives that deliver alternative sources of protein to subsistence consumers of wild animals, in order to further reduce the risk to human health.