Emerging infectious diseases affect millions of people each year worldwide. These are new diseases such as Covid-19, which is estimated to cause 6 to 15 million deaths. Other well-known diseases with a high incidence of epidemics – such as Ebola – are also considered emerging. A large majority of these diseases are transferred from the animal to humans, we speak of zoonoses.
Better understand the links between biodiversity and health
Health authorities are concerned about global changes affecting biodiversity. And for good reason: human health and biodiversity are closely linked. « Human activities and deforestation increase contact between humans, domestic and wild animals, says Julien Cappelle, health ecologist at CIRAD and coordinator of the BCOMING project. These new proximity multiplies the opportunities for disease transmission to humans ».
Added to this is another mechanism that promotes the emergence of certain zoonoses such as West Nile virus. « When the ecosystem diversity is reduced, pathogens spread more between individuals of the same species, thus increasing our exposure Julien Cappelle continues.
A better understanding of the mechanisms that promote the emergence of infectious diseases is paramount. This is the goal of the BCOMING (Biodiversity Conservation to Mitigate the Risks of Emerging Infectious Diseases) project. « Our goal is to develop biodiversity conservation and disease surveillance strategies to reduce the risk of emergence. Julien Cappelle explains.
The means? 14 partners from around the world and € 6 million in funding under the Horizon Europe program. CIRAD coordinates the whole through its expertise on the links between global ecosystem health and biodiversity to reduce infectious diseases. The BCOMING project starts in August 2022 for a period of six years and benefits from the label PREZODE, an international initiative to build resilient socio-ecosystems.
Three countries, seven pathogens, two key milestones
The project focuses on seven pathogens in three study areas: Cambodia (Sars-cov-2), Guinea (Ebola, Marburg and Lassa) and Guadeloupe (West Nile). Trematode worms and coronaviruses, present in each of the areas, are also being studied. These countries are all characterized by a very rich biodiversity: tropical areas are in fact identified as hotspots for the risk of the emergence of zoonoses.
« The choice was also made due to socio-cultural differences and partnerships and projects already underway, adds Julien Cappelle. This diversity will allow us to test a new standardized approach, applicable worldwide and able to adapt to local constraints. »
There are two steps to accomplishing these goals:
• Improve knowledge about the emergence of zoonotic diseases
Scientists will focus on collecting ecological, socio-economic, environmental and epidemiological data, including new tools for the rapid detection of pathogens in the field. « This data will be analyzed in an innovative way, details Julien Cappelle. One of our goals is to be better assess the impact of human practices on disease transmissiona set of crucial and still misunderstood factors today. This first step will lead to the development of a standardized approach, benefiting the entire scientific community working on the mechanisms of zoonotic emergence.
• Prevent the emergence of zoonotic diseases
So-called agent-centered models will be used to integrate project data. « They simulate the transmission of diseases between animals and the population Julien Cappelle recalls. They will be used to test different biodiversity conservation strategies or new surveillance systems to reduce the risk of disease emergence.
An innovative participatory approach
These models will be valuable in the BCOMING project. « The originality of the project is based on our participatory approach, bringing together all local, regional and national actors, says Julien Cappelle. Agent-centered models will serve as a discussion medium to implement prevention practices tailored to each study site. ». All decision-makers – local communities, NGOs or national authorities – will benefit from these practical solutions to prevent the appearance of zoonoses.
On the agenda now? The launch of the project in August 2022, immediately followed by the finalization of collection protocols and the first model developments. « The meeting of all our partners will allow us to finalize this upstream phase and start the co-construction process. Concludes the researcher.