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Protecting the environment can protect us from pandemics

Sharjah, UAE, July 4, 2022: Deforestation, air, soil, water pollution, imperishable waste and other environmental issues impacting the globe are intrinsically linked to the increasing frequency and lethality of zoonotic diseases such as COVID-19. This is according to a new study published by Elsevier in its journal “Hygiene and Environmental Health Advances”. The study was led by BEEAH Environmental Services, the environmental consultancy business of Middle East sustainability pioneer, BEEAH Group.

The evidence-based review was informed by the studies of over 700,000 viruses derived from high-risk viral families observed since the 1980s. Through improved environmental management, the study found, the risk of infectious zoonotic disease outbreaks could be mitigated and ultimately prevent the occurrence of pandemic outbreaks similar to COVID-19 in the future.

Eng. Mohamed AlHosani, Chief Sustainability Officer at BEEAH Group.

“Healthy environmental ecosystems create a sanitary barrier that limits the spread of disease. Additionally, protecting against the effects of climate change may play a significant role in minimising the impact and transmission of infectious diseases. Therefore, it is vital that we increase our focus on protecting the environment to improve our resilience to future pandemics”, said Eng. Mohamed AlHosani, Chief Sustainability Officer at BEEAH Group, a co-author on the study.

According to research, deforestation is reported to increase susceptibility to COVID-19 due to wildfire induced pollution and loss of forest ecosystem services. As such, forest fragmentation and biodiversity loss have the potential to proliferate the transmission of viruses and disease.

Dr Hashem Stietiya, the BEEAH Environment Services Director of Research and Development.

“Deforestation will likely lead to environmental damage and the modification of zoonotic habitats, resulting in the increased frequency of human and domestic animal contact with wildlife reservoirs of potential zoonoses. This increases the likelihood of our exposure to infectious diseases that are able to be transmitted between species, from animals to humans”, said Dr Hashem Stietiya, the BEEAH Environment Services Director of Research and Development, a co-author on the study.

The study highlighted the fact that poor air quality can lead to a decreased immune response, impact lung function, and further enable the spread of viruses. Underdeveloped countries are particularly at risk since inadequate environmental management is more prevalent.

Air quality has been a major area of focus for BEEAH Environment Services. In a previous publication led by the University of Sharjah, BEEAH Environment Services provided air quality data collected from its monitoring stations, contributing to insights derived time-series and statistical analyses. “In a previous study with University of Sharjah, we found that air quality improved significantly as a result of restricted mobility due to COVID-19 lockdown measures”, Dr. Stietiya recalled. “Following this study, we became curious about the relationship between air quality and the spread of viruses. We began conducting evidence-based research on the spread of viruses, which clearly showed the potential for environmental management to mitigate the risk of future pandemics, contribute to better quality and of course contribute to better overall public health”, adds Dr. Stietiya.

In relation to waste management, the study reported that lack of protection measures and safe disposal options raised concerns around viruses and diseases with a high infectivity rate. This is because solid waste materials could contain droplets, body fluids and blood which may be contaminated with a viable virus. Furthermore, inadequate legal frameworks and non-adherence to environmental regulations are also aggravating the risk and vulnerability to future waves of pandemics.

“When examined holistically, these findings prove that thoughtful management of environmental factors such as deforestation, air quality, and waste would assist not only in predicting the severity of a pandemic but also in the management of diseases”, said Dr. Stietiya.

“Since the start of the pandemic, nations across the globe have been prioritising economic recovery efforts and safeguarding agricultural production. This has impacted global sustainability efforts, without which there is increasing potential for the severity of future outbreaks to be exacerbated”, adds Eng. Alhosani. “Now, as economies move beyond recovery towards transformation and growth, sustainability through environmental management must be made a key priority to ensure we are better prepared to mitigate the risks of any future outbreaks”. 

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