The pressure cooker environment – preventing the next pandemic

Andrea Britton


Australian Public Health Conference 2020

One Health SIG webinar: The pressure cooker environment – preventing the next pandemic


  • Dr Peter Daszak, President, Ecohealth Alliance 
  • Associate Professor Lars Henning, Associate Professor for Communicable Disease Control and Tropical Medicine, James Cook University Queensland, and PHAA One Health SIG Committee


This webinar at the Australian Public Health Conference (view here) held by the PHAA generated significant interest from 140 participants across different sectors and disciplines. Participants included veterinarians, medical practitioners, social scientists, researchers, policy makers and other professionals working in public health, ecology, wildlife and conservation

The webinar was dedicated to the late Emeritus Professor Rick Speare, a public health physician and veterinary surgeon, and past Director of James Cook University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. A One Health advocate and researcher – linking human, animal and ecosystem health.

One Health is a collaborative, multisectoral and transdisciplinary approach – working at local, regional, national and global levels – to achieve optimal health and well-being outcomes. One Health recognises the interconnections between people, animals, plants and their shared environment.

With 75% of emerging infectious diseases being of animal origin, a better understanding and management of animal reservoirs and routes of transmission of infectious agents is needed.



Dr Peter Daszak, President of EcoHealth Alliance, presented on the science and politics of predicting and preventing the next Disease X.

Dr Daszak described how we still do not understand the disease “threat” in hotspots around the world, but we do know that the threats are originating due to human actions and behaviours. The COVID-19 pandemic involving a coronavirus from bats was completely predictable in so many ways. He stressed that we need transformational change to prevent pandemics at the source, where disease spillover occurs. A One Health strategy that includes identifying the pool of unknown viruses at the global scale is urgently needed. Behavior change & policy programs in key at-risk communities across South East Asia and other emerging infectious disease hotspots are also needed, in combination with the development of broadly active medicines and vaccines.

The challenges with misinformation during the pandemic and fake news was discussed, highlighting the need for clear communication about new diseases, and stating when we don’t know the answers.

A key conclusion from the discussion was that we need to use the momentum that has been generated from the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as the motivation from the public to treat the natural environment differently (e.g. by reducing the carbon footprint). There is a willingness from China to collaborate with countries, and Australia, with some of the world’s best scientists is well positioned to assist in preventing the next pandemic.

Pandemic control interventions and prevention

  • Social distancing
  • Travel restrictions
  • Non-Pharm. Interventions

Local à regional outbreak

  • Early detection
  • National response capacity
  • Global Preparedness

Spillover of Disease X

  • Farm biosecurity
  • One Health
  • Radical new strategies needed!
  • Conspiracy theories fill the void

Associate Professor Lars Henning for Communicable Disease Control and Tropical Medicine at James Cook University, Townsville, presented on the complex interaction of climate change and health and the importance of a One Health approach to tackling these complex challenges. He shared stories of his experience during the Ebola outbreak in West Africa in 2014-2016 and why community-based surveillance is essential to control. He expressed the need for rapid accurate field tests to better diagnose emerging infectious diseases and the importance of communication, including social scientists in the team. Australia needs to be more prepared for these outbreaks, building a One Health workforce as new and known infectious diseases, like yellow fever, may spread to our shores given the vector distribution might increase in the future.


Read more on the topic in the article ‘The ‘One Health’ concept must prevail to allow us to prevent pandemics


Dr Andrea Britton is the PHAA One Health Special Interest Group Convenor and One Health Advisor at the Burnet Institute. 




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