By Selva Ozelli
Celebrated each year on April 7, the theme of the World Health Day this year is building a fairer, healthier world for everyone while recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since last March, when the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the COVID-19 pandemic a public health emergency of international concern, the highest level of alarm under international law, the virus — which hit the world like a Tsunami — has mutated and spread in waves globally infecting over 131 million and killing 2.8 million people as of April 6, 2021 according to the John Hopkins Covid Center. There are reports of skyrocketing cases in many countries, thus leading to fresh lockdowns. The USA leads with 30.78 million cases, followed by Brazil and India, with over 13 million and 12.68 million cases, respectively. The other countries with a high number of cases include France (over 4.89 million cases), Russia (over 4.53 million cases), the United Kingdom (4.37 million cases), Italy (3.67 million cases) and Turkey (3.5 million cases).
The pandemic shed light on the deepening socio-economic inequalities, structural and entrenched discrimination and other gaps in access to medical care, vaccination and a healthy environment. Last May, the World Health Assembly called on the WHO “to identify the zoonotic source of the virus and the route of introduction to the human population, including the possible role of intermediate hosts, including through efforts such as scientific and collaborative field missions.” Public-health officials say it is critical to identify the origin of the pandemic to take steps to avert future outbreaks.
In a report recently released by the WHO, the Huanan wet market in Wuhan, where animals were sold, has emerged as a probable source of the coronavirus pandemic. The report was a result of a major investigation organized by the WHO led by a team of scientists from around the world: Australia, China, Denmark, Germany, Japan, Kenya, Netherlands, Qatar, the Russian Federation, the United Kingdom, the United States of America and Vietnam.
“We could show the virus was circulating in the market as early as December 2019,” says WHO’s Peter Ben Embarek, who co-led the investigation. The investigation concluded that the virus probably did not spread widely before December or escape from a laboratory. Ben Embarek added that this investigation is far from the last one. “A lot of good leads were suggested in this report, and we anticipate that many, if not all of them, will be followed through because we owe it to the world to understand what happened, why and how to prevent it from happening again.”
“As far as WHO is concerned, all hypotheses remain on the table. This report is a very important beginning, but it is not the end. We have not yet found the source of the virus, and we must continue to follow the science and leave no stone unturned as we do,” said Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO’s Director-General, calling for further studies. Dr. Tedros added, “Finding the origin of a virus takes time and we owe it to the world to find the source so we can collectively take steps to reduce the risk of this happening again. No single research trip can provide all the answers”.
As the WHO team continues to study the origin of the Covid-19 pandemic, other scientists are unearthing new clues suggesting that the virus behind it evolved naturally to infect humans. At least four recent studies have identified coronaviruses closely related to the pandemic strain in bats and pangolins in Southeast Asia and Japan, a sign that these pathogens are more widespread than previously known and that there was ample opportunity for the virus to evolve.
The COVID-19 vaccines have been a game-changer for combating the international pandemic with the Pfizer-BioNTech RNA-based vaccine being the first one to be approved for use in many countries. The WHO has published a report on the Covid-19 vaccine effectiveness and impact which provides interim best practice guidance on how to assess COVID-19 vaccine effectiveness using observational study designs. According to other new studies:
- Vaccines are effective in preventing infections as well as symptoms;
- Prioritizing COVID-19 vaccine for vulnerable groups saves lives;
- Vaccinating adults also protects unvaccinated people living around them;
- Immunity can be passed from vaccinated mothers to their babies through the placenta and breast milk.
However, a study shows that vaccinations alone will not have a major impact on the fourth wave of the pandemic. Masks and a good ventilation system are also important in reducing the airborne spread of COVID-19. Other socio-economic and environmental factors are being collaboratively studied by Connecticut College (USA), Ashoka University (India), Ashesi University (Ghana), Morningside College at The Chinese University in Hong Kong (China), and The Higher School of Economics (Russia). These studies, the vaccination drive, together with continued public health and social measures are expected to eventually bring an end to the pandemic. Collectively, they will influence the global measures that are implemented to close the socio-economic gaps, to build back a greener, post COVID-19 reality that is better, more resilient, just and sustainable.
Selva Ozelli Esq, CPA is an environmentalist who expresses this sentiment as an artist, writer, international tax attorney who frequently writes about the environmental issues for Cointelegraph, Bloomberg BNA, TiredEarth, Times of Corona, TRVST, OECD, World Bank, UN-FAO and other publications.