Preventing the next pandemic

Launched 6 July 2020

COVID-19 is just one example of the rising trend of diseases – from Ebola to MERS to West Nile and Rift Valley fevers – caused by viruses that have jumped from animal hosts into the human population.

In the spirit of the United Nations Framework for the Immediate Socio-economic Response to COVID-19, the United Nations Environment Programme has teamed up with the International Livestock Research Institute and other key partners to develop an evidence-based assessment report on the risk of future zoonotic outbreaks. 

The report, Preventing the next pandemic: Zoonotic diseases and how to break the chain of transmission, focuses specifically on the environmental side of the zoonotic dimension of disease outbreaks during the COVID-19 pandemic. It fills a critical knowledge gap and provide policymakers with a better understanding of the context and nature of potential future zoonotic disease outbreaks. It examines the root causes of the COVID-19 pandemic and other zoonoses. 

The report also looks at where zoonoses come from and how we can reduce the likelihood of their occurrence. It explores the role of animals, and in particular non-domestic animals, in emerging infectious human diseases. This is essential for our global efforts to improve our response preparedness because the frequency of spillover of pathogenic organisms jumping from animals to humans has been increasing considerably, due to the growing magnitude of our unsustainable natural resource use in today’s world.

The report recommends the need for a One Health approach -- which unites public health, veterinary and environmental expertise -- as the optimal method for preventing as well as responding to zoonotic disease outbreaks and pandemics.


Jimmy Smith

Jimmy Smith

Director general, ILRI

With their experiences with Ebola and other emerging diseases, African countries are demonstrating proactive ways to manage disease outbreaks. They are applying, for example, novel risk-based rather than rule-based approaches to disease control, which are best suited to resource-poor settings, and they are joining up human, animal and environment expertise in proactive One Health initiatives.

Inger Andersen

Inger Andersen

Under-Secretary-General of the United Nations and Executive Director of the UN Environment Programme

Pandemics are devastating to our lives and our economies, and as we have seen over the past months, it is the poorest and the most vulnerable who suffer the most. To prevent future outbreaks, we must become much more deliberate about protecting our natural environment.

Delia Grace

Delia Grace

Professor Food Safety Systems, NRI; Contributing scientist ILRI

If we want to avoid a repeat of this terrible situation, we need much closer cooperation between experts in ecosystem, animal and human health. That’s how you can create an early warning system and the capacity to detect and stop outbreaks like COVID-19 before they get out of control.

Bernard Bett

Bernard Bett

Team leader, Animal and human health

If you follow a One Health approach, you assemble a team including animal experts, human health professionals and ecosystem experts. You are aware of the evolving nature of disease risks in natural environments, especially as they are disturbed by human activity and climate change. You are conducting surveillance—in livestock, wet markets and humans—to detect the early signs of a potential outbreak. And you are working together as a team to stop it from spreading.

Doreen Robinson

Doreen Robinson

Chief for Wildlife at the UN Environment Programme

While the issue is challenging one thing is clear: protecting the environment, halting habit loss and degradation, learning how to maintain natural ecosystems that sustain life on this planet –that can help protect us from enduring another crisis like the COVID-19 pandemic.

UNEP Executive Director Inger Andersen and ILRI Director General Jimmy Smith launched the report at a press briefing live at noon NYC time on 6 July 2020. Watch the recording here.


Key recommendations

Raise awareness and increase understanding (knowledge) of zoonotic and emerging disease risks and prevention (where appropriate), at all levels of society to build widespread support for risk-reduction strategies.

Expand scientific enquiry into the complex social, economic and ecological dimensions of emerging diseases, including zoonoses, to assess risks and develop interventions at the interface of the environment, animal health and human health.

Improve cost-benefit analyses of emerging diseases prevention interventions to include full-cost accounting of societal impacts of disease (including the cost of unintended consequences of interventions) so as to optimize investments and reduce trade-offs. Ensure ongoing and well-resourced preparedness and response mechanisms.

Develop effective means of monitoring and regulating practicesassociated with zoonotic disease, including food systems from farm to fork (particularly for removingstructural drivers of emergence) and improving sanitary measures, taking into account thenutritional, cultural and socio-economic benefits ofthese food systems.

Include health considerations in incentives for (sustainable) food systems, including wildlife source foods. Augment and incentivize management practices to control unsustainable agricultural practice, wildlife consumption and trade (including illegal activities). Develop alternatives for food security and livelihoods that do not rely on the destruction and unsustainable exploitation of habitats and biodiversity.

Identify key drivers of emerging diseases in animal husbandry, both in industrialized agriculture (intensive husbandry systems) and smallholder production. Include proper accounting of biosecurity measures in production-driven animal husbandry/livestock production to the overall cost of One Health. Incentivize proven and under-used animal husbandry management, biosecurity and zoonotic disease control measures for industrial and disadvantaged smallholder farmers and herders (e.g. through the removal of subsidies and perverse incentives of industrialized agriculture),and develop practices that strengthen the health, opportunity and sustainability of diverse smallholdersystems.


Support integrated management of landscapes and seascapes that enhance sustainable co-existence of agriculture and wildlife, including through investment in agro-ecological methods of food production that mitigate waste and pollution while reducing risk of zoonotic disease transmission. Reduce further destruction and fragmentation of wildlife habitat by strengthening the implementation of existing commitments on habitat conservation and restoration, the maintenance of ecological connectivity, reduction of habitat loss, and incorporating biodiversity values in governmental and private sector decision-making and planning processes.

Strengthen existing and build new capacities among health stakeholders in all countries to improve outcomes and to help them understand the human, animal and environment health dimensions of zoonotic and other diseases.

Adequately mainstream and implement the One Health approach in land-use and sustainable development planning, implementation and monitoring, among other fields.

Lead Author

Delia Grace

Delia Grace

Professor Food Safety Systems, NRI; joint appointed scientist, ILRI

ILRI co-authors

Bernard Bett

Bernard Bett

Senior scientist, Animal and human health

Susan MacMillan

Susan MacMillan

ILRI Emeritus Fellow

ILRI videos

Does our destruction of the natural world increase the spread of disease?

Extinction Rebellion’s 2020 (8 April) ‘LIVE: Ask a Scientist’ program 1-hour video panel discussion with panellists Eric Fèvre, ILRI joint appointed scientist and chair of Infectious Zoonotic Diseases at the University of Liverpool; Kate Jones, chair of Ecology and Biodiversity at University College London; Beth Purse, Monkey Fever Risk project leader at the UK Centre for Ecology and Hydrology; and David Quammen, American science journalist and author of the book Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic


Diseases from the wild

Three-minute video interview of ILRI scientist Hung Nguyen-Viet (narration in Vietnamese with English captions).


Reducing antimicrobial resistance

Five-minute educational animated film


Battling mosquito-borne diseases: Why it matters

Three-minute video by ILRI scientist Johanna Lindahl


Controlling zoonotic diseases through a One Health approach

Two-minute video of ILRI scientist Hu Suk Lee (narration in English with Vietnamese captions)


Zoonotic plagues

Two-minute interview of Nobel Laureate and ILRI patron Peter Doherty


The lethal gifts of livestock

Presentation by Delia Grace, professor of food safety systems, Natural Resources Institute and contributing scientist, ILRI


The structure of SARS-CoV-2

What does the COVID-19 virus look like? What is it made out of? A short animated explainer produced for the joint International Livestock Research Institute and United Nations Environmental Programme 'Preventing the next pandemic: zoonotic diseases and how to break the chain of transmission'


Zoonotic Diseases Like Covid-19 Are On The Rise

As the new coronavirus continues to turn the world upside down, crashing economies and overextending health care systems, epidemiologists and infectious disease experts are increasingly focusing on how to prevent the next pandemic, rather than solely reacting to the current one.