Connect with us


COVID-19 and environment: Past, present and future



Human activities have altered virtually every part of the earth – from land, air, up to surface and ground waters. The constant encroachment on nature and the degradation of the ecosystem has endangered human health to a large extent.

As stated by the executive director of UNEP, Inger Anderson, 75% of the all emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic i.e. originating from animals and transferred to humans. This continued trespassing into wild spaces has brought humans closer to animals which engenders diseases transfer to humans.

Aaron Barnstein, also buttressed this point at the Harvard School of Public Health in the United States, saying that the destruction of the natural habitat drives wildlife to live close to human, aside that of climate change. Ebola (originating from bats, chimpanzees, apes, monkeys), bird flu (from waterfowl), Zika virus (from apes and monkeys), West nile virus (from birds) amongst others are some novel diseases of the twenty-first century transcended from wildlife.

  The emergence and spread of COVID-19, alleged to have originated from pangolins or bats in Wuhan, has been predicted by Andrew Cunningham, of the Zoological Society of London, some years back. He had said that there would be another viral emergence from wildlife that would be a public threat, stressing that fatality rates of diseases from wildlife are much higher in humans. Today, not only is COVID-19 a public threat but also a pandemic to the entirety of human race.

  The novel COVID-19 has held the World at ransom leaving everybody irrespective of race, tribe, class or religion to battle for one thing: survival. Industries are shutdown, transportation restricted and businesses halted. With the outbreak of the virus late December, 2019, in Wuhan, China, and the declaration by World Health Organisation as a global pandemic on March 11, 2020, the virus has spread to about 146 countries and regions.

 It has forced major changes in homes and businesses, including frequent use of chemicals and disinfectants in keeping proper sanitation and hygiene which has introduced new sources of waste. Also, hand gloves and personal protective equipment used in cleaning and disinfecting surfaces and treating infected persons are also sources of increased waste generation.

  SARS-CoV-2, the causative virus for COVID-19, has the tendency to survive outside the host organism’s surface increasing the risk of contracting the virus. According to a publication by the American Chemical Society, the coronavirus has been detected to survive in stools of infected patients for four days and remains infectious in water and sewage for days to weeks.

 Researchers have recorded that the period to reduce the virus infectivity by 99% in pure or pasteurised water is several days. The survival period, as well as adsorption of the virus on airborne dust and particulate matter, also aids the long range transportation of the virus.

Thus, the virus is facilitated in the environmental media by water, particulate matter, dust and sewage wastes. Correspondingly, the virus can be infected by contact with infected surface and inhalation of exhaled respiratory droplets inform of aerosol through the: mouth, nose or eyes, as has been identified.

  It is therefore necessary that as we circumvent the spread of the virus in humans, necessary precautions should be taken to ensure that the virus spread is contained in the environment. Thus the determination of levels of this infectious virus in various environmental components for precise quantification and identification of COVID-19 virus is of utmost importance bearing in mind that the amount could be low and require very sensitive method. This is to determine the occurrence, survival and behaviour of the virus in the environment and reduce the chance of infection by developing practical methods for large-scale disinfection and keeping people away from infected environment. Similarly, proper waste management system from medical and isolation centres is also pivotal in the containment of the spread of the virus.

  However, prevention of further outbreak of zoonotic viruses, like COVID-19, is necessary for sustainability by stopping the illegal wildlife trade and the destruction of natural ecosystem. There is therefore a need to rebuild nature by working with it, and not against it. Health and environment cannot be separated because what goes around comes around.

Our health is a reflection of the quality of our environment, the climate we create and the other organism we share it with. COVID-19 has provided us with another strong opportunity and awareness for change of attitude towards the natural ecosystem.

  Safe handling and management of chemicals and waste especially from the medical and isolation centres, protection of biodiversity (the remaining natural ecosystem), restoration/rehabilitation of degraded ecosystem, promotion of afforestation and reforestation programmes, and ban on illegal trade of wildlife are steps which should be taken to stop the spread of the virus and prevent the emergence of similar novel virus and other diseases in the future.

Continue Reading
Click to comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *