Creating a safer world beyond the Covid pandemic | Letters

Dr Klara Saville on the independent report into pandemic planning and Tilly Lavenás on the role that animals have played in vaccine development. Plus letters from Karen Dawn, Marion Judd, Ruth Driscoll and Richard Kramer

I read your article (Covid pandemic was preventable, says WHO-commissioned report, 12 May) with great interest. I welcome the recommendations of the independent report, in particular calls for the World Health Organization to establish a global system for disease surveillance, which should include zoonotic diseases. Since 75% of new human infections are zoonotic, a “one health” approach is indeed necessary in pandemic planning.

But it must be recognised that the information that comes out is only as good as the information that goes in. There are capacity gaps in the veterinary workforce and disincentives for animal owners that mean a lot of disease outbreaks are not reported. Surveillance must be strengthened at all levels, including at community level, where disease outbreaks could be spotted early.

The report also calls for a better-resourced WHO. Much as better resourcing of human health is required, it is also needed in the other pillars of “one health”. In an interconnected world, we are only as strong as the weakest health system. The annual budget of the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE) is less than 1% of that of the WHO. A true “one health” approach would empower the agencies responsible for each pillar of “one health” – such as the WHO, OIE, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, the UN Environment Programme – to work together to ensure that Covid-19 is the last pandemic.
Dr Klara Saville
Head of animal health, animal welfare and community development, Brooke

• I agree with Melanie Challenger (Animals are our overlooked allies in the fight against Covid, 17 May) that something important has been forgotten in this crisis: the role of laboratory animals in the development of Covid vaccines. Monkeys, ferrets, cats, mice and hamsters have been intentionally infected and experimented on.

I’m fortunate to have been vaccinated and I’m optimistic that life will return to normal. I’m not equipped to answer whether there are alternatives to animal tests, but I would hope that we are moving in that direction. In the meantime, spare a thought for the sacrifice that thousands of animals have made (involuntarily) so we can be safe.
Tilly Lavenás
Isleworth, London

• Melanie Challenger tells us that to acknowledge the role that animals played in vaccine research is not to take a position on their continued use in research. “It is instead to accept that there is something wrong with obscuring or forgetting their part and the price they pay,” she writes. That is a wonderful sentiment, but ironic in the face of an earlier line: “To put it bluntly, countless animals have given their lives to save ours.” Hardly blunt – that line obfuscates the often painful circumstances under which their lives were not given, but taken. If we wish to discuss animal testing honestly, let’s start by avoiding pretty euphemisms.
Karen Dawn
Executive director, DawnWatch

• How come no one talks about the brilliant people’s Covid inquiry chaired by Michael Mansfield QC, which involves a number of eminent scientists (Don’t wait for government – UK scientists should conduct a Covid inquiry now, 13 May)? Has the government issued an edict to the press to be silent about it?
Marion Judd

• Did Boris Johnson know it was Dying Matters Awareness Week when he announced his inquiry (11 May)? Possibly, but its significance should not be ignored. In end-of-life care, coronavirus has exacerbated longstanding challenges and an inquiry, if done right, could help improve the care that dying people receive long into the future. People who have died of cancer, dementia and motor neurone disease, ie not from Covid, during the pandemic have also struggled, particularly in their own homes, to get the care they need. Many have died in pain and their loved ones have missed out on vital bereavement support. The prime minister cannot let this become the norm in future, when 100,000 more people will die, each year, by 2040. The inquiry must, of course, look at pandemic preparedness and assess the cabinet’s decisions, but it also provides a chance to ensure the end-of-life care system is fit for the future. This is a once-in-a-generation opportunity. Please don’t throw it away.
Ruth Driscoll
Head of policy and public affairs, Marie Curie

• The experience of disabled people, and the support that they have received during the pandemic, must be one of the areas scrutinised in the inquiry (Report, 12 May). The pandemic has had a severe and disproportionate impact on the lives of disabled people. They account for almost six in 10 (59%) of all deaths involving coronavirus, while making up 22% of the population. At the same time, vital social care support was cut, which meant many disabled people have been unable to do basic chores such as leave the house or attend essential medical appointments.

Two in five (40%) disabled people say that their needs have not been prioritised by the government during the pandemic. They have felt forgotten, experiencing a lack of information, support and consideration.

Almost two-thirds (61%) of disabled people now believe that their experience must be a focus of the inquiry. We have to investigate the decisions and policies of the government and public authorities that led to such dire outcomes for disabled people. We must learn from the mistakes of the past year and ensure that disabled people are no longer, and will never again be, treated like second-class citizens.
Richard Kramer
Chief executive, Sense

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