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Human health ben­e­fits from pro­tect­ing bio­di­ver­sity, UN report shows

pub­lished 14 Feb­ru­ary 2015 | mod­i­fied 07 June 2015

Cover Summary Report State of Knowledge review Biodiversity and Human HealthUPDATE!

A ground-​breaking report on bio­di­ver­sity and health, launched today at the 14th World Con­gress on Pub­lic Health, in Kolkata, India, shows the sig­nif­i­cant con­tri­bu­tion of bio­di­ver­sity and ecosys­tem ser­vices to bet­ter human health.

The report, Con­nect­ing Global Pri­or­i­ties: Bio­di­ver­sity and Human Health, demon­strates that the rela­tion­ship between bio­di­ver­sity and human health is exten­sive and com­plex. It out­lines the ways that the con­ser­va­tion and sus­tain­able use of bio­di­ver­sity has pos­i­tive impacts on human health, includ­ing through impacts on water and air qual­ity, nutri­tion, non-​communicable and infec­tious dis­eases, and med­i­cines, among others.

Pre­pared by the Sec­re­tariat of the Con­ven­tion on Bio­log­i­cal Diver­sity (SCBD) and the World Health Orga­ni­za­tion (WHO), the report fea­tures con­tri­bu­tions from numer­ous part­ners and over 100 experts, includ­ing Biover­sity Inter­na­tional, COHAB Ini­tia­tive, Eco­Health Alliance, Har­vard School of Pub­lic Health, United Nations Uni­ver­sity, Wildlife Con­ser­va­tion Society’s Health & Ecosys­tems: Analy­sis of Link­ages and many others.

We hope this joint report will increase aware­ness and under­stand­ing not only of the intrin­sic value of bio­di­ver­sity, but also as a crit­i­cal foun­da­tion for sus­tain­able devel­op­ment, and for human health and well-​being
Dr. Maria Neira, WHO Direc­tor for Pub­lic Health, Envi­ron­men­tal and Social Deter­mi­nants of Health »

In par­tic­u­lar, it should serve as a use­ful ref­er­ence for the def­i­n­i­tion of the sus­tain­able devel­op­ment goals and the post-​2015 devel­op­ment agenda, which rep­re­sent a unique oppor­tu­nity to pro­mote inte­grated approaches to pro­tect human and plan­e­tary health,” said Dr. Neira.

Braulio Fer­reira de Souza Dias, Exec­u­tive Sec­re­tary of the Con­ven­tion on Bio­log­i­cal Diver­sity (CBD), and Assis­tant Secretary-​General of the United Nations, said “Despite the clear role that bio­di­ver­sity plays for human health, and thus for the Sus­tain­able Devel­op­ment Goals, this link­age is not being made in pol­icy forums. Hope­fully this new report will help shed some light on this crit­i­cal issue.”

United Nations Decade on Bio­di­ver­sity — Offi­cial Video:

(Source: UNBio­di­ver­sity CBD YouTube channel)

The report pro­vides spe­cific exam­ples of the rela­tion­ship for a num­ber of issue areas includ­ing: water, air qual­ity and human health; bio­di­ver­sity, food pro­duc­tion and nutri­tion; micro­bial diver­sity and non-​communicable dis­ease; infec­tious dis­eases; med­i­cines, includ­ing tra­di­tional med­i­cine; phys­i­cal, men­tal and cul­tural well-​being; phar­ma­ceu­ti­cals and bio­di­ver­sity; cli­mate change and dis­as­ter risk reduc­tion; and sus­tain­able con­sump­tion and production.

High­lights of the report include:

Bio­di­ver­sity, Food Pro­duc­tion and Nutri­tion
Bio­di­ver­sity is the basis for crops, live­stock and farmed fish and other parts of agri­cul­tural pro­duc­tion and aqua­cul­ture. Genetic diver­sity within these ensures con­tin­u­ing improve­ments in food pro­duc­tion, allows adap­ta­tion to cur­rent needs and ensures adapt­abil­ity to future ones includ­ing cli­mate change. The loss of bio­di­ver­sity in agro-​ecosystems is increas­ing the vul­ner­a­bil­ity and reduc­ing the sus­tain­abil­ity of many pro­duc­tion sys­tems with neg­a­tive effects on human health. The report also points out that a diver­sity of species, vari­eties and breeds, as well as wild food and med­i­c­i­nal sources (fish, plants, bush­meat, insects and fungi) under­pins dietary diver­sity, good nutri­tion and health. For this rea­son, reduced access to and global declines in ter­res­trial, marine and fresh­wa­ter sys­tems will present major pub­lic health chal­lenges for resource-​dependent human pop­u­la­tions, par­tic­u­larly in low– and mid­dle– income coun­tries. Some dietary pat­terns that offer sub­stan­tial health ben­e­fits, such as diets char­ac­terised by reduced meat con­sump­tion could also reduce cli­mate change and pres­sures on bio­di­ver­sity.

Micro­bial Diver­sity and non-​communicable dis­eases

Humans, like most liv­ing things, have a micro­biota — eco­log­i­cal com­mu­ni­ties of com­men­sal, sym­bi­otic and path­o­genic micro-​organisms that lit­er­ally share our body space and out­num­ber our human cells ten to one. The major­ity of these microbes pro­vide vital func­tions for human sur­vival. The report points out that inter­ac­tion with microbes present in the envi­ron­ment are an impor­tant part of the healthy main­te­nance of our human micro­biota. Reduced con­tact of peo­ple with the nat­ural envi­ron­ment and bio­di­ver­sity, and bio­di­ver­sity loss in the wider envi­ron­ment, leads to reduced diver­sity in the human micro­biota, which itself can lead to immune dys­func­tion and dis­ease. Con­sid­er­ing micro­bial diver­sity as an ecosys­tem ser­vice provider may con­tribute to bridg­ing the chasm between ecol­ogy and medicine/​immunology, by con­sid­er­ing micro­bial diver­sity in pub­lic health and con­ser­va­tion strate­gies aimed at max­imis­ing ser­vices obtained from ecosystems.

Infec­tious dis­eases
Bio­di­ver­sity plays a com­plex role in dis­ease emer­gence, with ben­e­fits in some con­texts and threats to human health in oth­ers. Human changes to and degra­da­tion of ecosys­tems, such as mod­i­fied land­scapes, inten­sive agri­cul­ture and antimi­cro­bial use, may increase the risk of infec­tious dis­ease trans­mis­sion. While areas of high bio­di­ver­sity may, in some cases, con­tain a high num­ber of poten­tial pathogens and con­tribute to the spread of dis­ease, in some con­texts bio­di­ver­sity may also serve as a pro­tec­tive fac­tor for pre­vent­ing or reduc­ing expo­sure to infec­tious agents.

The report con­cludes with rec­om­men­da­tion for health and bio­di­ver­sity strate­gies. It calls for the cre­ation of coher­ent cross-​sectoral strate­gies that ensure that bio­di­ver­sity and health link­ages are widely rec­og­nized, val­ued, and reflected in national pub­lic health and bio­di­ver­sity con­ser­va­tion poli­cies. They also need to be coor­di­nated with pro­grams and plans of other rel­e­vant sec­tors. Their imple­men­ta­tion could be a joint respon­si­bil­ity of min­istries of health, envi­ron­ment and other rel­e­vant min­istries respon­si­ble for envi­ron­men­tal health pro­grammes and national bio­di­ver­sity strate­gies and action plans. In all cases, they should be devel­oped and imple­mented with the involve­ment of local com­mu­ni­ties. Given the inter­con­nected nature of these chal­lenges, there is a need for pol­icy mak­ers to coor­di­nate their responses.

The report sug­gests that the solu­tion lies in unit­ing work in social and nat­ural sci­ences through inte­gra­tive and inter­dis­ci­pli­nary approaches such as the ecosys­tem, eco­health, and One Health approach, in order to develop coop­er­a­tion and mutual under­stand­ing that can lead to the pro­duc­tion of knowl­edge and rec­om­men­da­tions that can be used by pol­icy mak­ers and practitioners.

The full vol­ume of the report will be released in the weeks ahead on the CBD web­site. The book will be the new flag­ship pub­li­ca­tion under the CBD joint work pro­gramme on bio­di­ver­sity and health co-​led in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the World Health Orga­ni­za­tion (WHO) and numer­ous other part­ners. It will be an impor­tant source of infor­ma­tion to assist Par­ties in the imple­men­ta­tion of the UN-​wide Strate­gic Plan for Bio­di­ver­sity 20112020, and to inform dis­cus­sions on the emerg­ing sus­tain­able devel­op­ment goals and post-​2015 Devel­op­ment Agenda.

The full vol­ume of Con­nect­ing Global Pri­or­i­ties: Bio­di­ver­sity and Human Health is NOW AVAIL­ABLE!

(Source: UNEP/​CBD press release, 13.02.2015; UNEP/​CBD update, )

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