University of Western Australia: Changes to human behaviour critical to cut pandemic risk

Researchers from The University of Western Australia say global consumption and people’s interconnectedness have created conditions for pandemics to thrive. The scientists have released a report with recommendations for policy makers to help decrease future risks.

The report highlights that unless we make drastic changes to behaviour, policy and government interventions and the enforcement of regulations, pandemics will increase in future.

The project led by Dr Kirsten Martinus, from UWA’s Department of Geography and Planning, drew on the research expertise of Dr Marit Kragt from UWA’s School of Agriculture and Environment, Dr Natasha Pauli from the School of Agriculture and Environment and Department of Geography and Planning and Professor Jane Heyworth from UWA’s School of Population and Global Health.

Lead researcher Dr Martinus said it was important to understand that pandemics were not rare events that only occurred and thrived in some pockets of the globe.

“Before COVID-19 we might have thought that we were safe from disease outbreaks, and separated by distance and water between continents, but the fact is we are all very interconnected globally, far more than we were decades ago,” Dr Martinus said.

“This is why disease outbreaks have been on the increase in recent decades and will continue to increase if we don’t do more.”

Dr Kragt said because there were many viruses that humans had yet to be exposed to, more pandemics were a real possibility in future.

“Our report outlines key recommendations for policy makers that are critical to minimise the threat of future pandemics,” Dr Kragt said.

“Firstly we need to look at consumer demand and change behaviour to ensure there are more environmentally-sensitive products being produced,” Dr Kragt said. “A big challenge is that what is the most cost-effective and cheaper for consumers is usually not the most environmentally protective.”

Dr Martinus said regulations and practices in global production chains needed support from global leaders, including support for local production chains.

“We should harness the power of technology for the production of goods and allow consumers to make more informed choices on the goods and services they buy,” she said.

Dr Martinus said it was critical to ensure an integrated approach across all levels of government, society and industry to address climate change, air and water pollution and land degradation.

“Increased public education and engagement is really important. Consumers need to have a greater awareness of nature and the environment and the role we all play in protecting it. Only then if they understand the impact to the environment and also what they can do to help can we have a hope of changing behaviour.”

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