Alternative ecological and social proposals for preventing the global threat of emerging infectious diseases.

  • Camille Besombes


Emerging infectious diseases are a major global health threat in the human, animal and plant worlds. Zoonoses and vector borne diseases are becoming prevalent worldwide. A large part of global health funding is dedicated to the fight against Dengue, Zika, or Ebola. Until now, public health strategies have been mainly based on vaccine development, medication testing or on proposals for “acceptable” cultural changes in local population practices to limit transmission risk, without thinking about the root causes.

In this literature review, it will be argued that the current economic system, through its growth imperatives which ignore planetary limits, together with intensive agricultural practices, is related to infectious disease emergence. Monocultural practices, such as rubber/palm oil industrial plantations, through the ecological perturbation inflicted, act as a driver of vector borne and zoonotic diseases. Deforestation, loss of biodiversity, and human invasion of remote forested areas are followed by the emergence of zoonoses such as Ebola disease. Even if any emergence is always a multifactorial process, it is still fundamental to highlight the major influence of environmental drivers. The characteristics of specific ecological and social contexts within which emergence occurs should be explored.

Alternative health and environmental paradigms could help impede the emergence of infectious diseases.  A true “One health” approach which takes care of ecosystems and preserves the diversity of living things and of relationships corresponds to an “EcoHealth” approach. Ecological options and environmental solutions could produce a real innovation in public health. Stopping deforestation and ecosystem destruction and fostering peasant agroecology and free evolution for certain forested areas could slowly lead to rebalanced ecosystems. Furthermore, ecological actions would be less stigmatizing than promotion of cultural changes. An alternative public health program based on “health within a healthy environment” would be more effective than a secondary struggle against emerging diseases. This suggests introducing public health as a fundamental land use issue, inaugurating peasant agroecology, land use and conservation as fundamental public health issues, and developing coherent policies.

 Key words: emerging infectious diseases, EcoHealth, pathogenic environment, plantacionocene, ecological alternatives, Planetary Health, ecosystemic approach to public health


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