Land-use change is a significant driver of emerging infectious disease. Over 60 percent of emerging infectious diseases over the past six decades, including SARS, H1N1/Swine Flu, and HIV-AIDS have originated in animals, with nearly half of these linked to changes in land-use. Forest degradation resulting from agricultural intensification and other human activities accounts for about 15 percent of greenhouse gas emissions – roughly equivalent to the emissions generated by the entire global transportation sector. The key to reducing the threat from diseases with pandemic potential and slowing global climate change is to more accurately account for the value of ecosystems and base land-use choices on real benefits and costs.
The four main goals of the Infectious Disease Emergence and Economics of Altered Landscapes (IDEEAL) project are to:
- Build models of land-use change and economics of disease emergence that can be used by local and regional decision makers;
- Describe the relationship between disease emergence, land-use change, and human behavior, and quantify an ecosystem’s disease regulating value;
- Build toolkits and establish a center of excellence to develop and promote best practices, research, and reduced-impact land use guidance; and
- Engage private companies and educate and empower civil society stakeholders to work together for a healthy and sustainable future.
This USAID funded project is currently based in the Kinabatangan Basin in Sabah, Malaysia. EcoHealth Alliance works closely with the Sabah Wildlife Department, University of Malaysia, as well as representative community groups. Our modeling strategy uses existing datasets collected by EHA and others identified through partners and government agencies in Malaysia. We calculate the value of damages from past disease outbreaks, and model expected damages under different land-use scenarios, and different outbreak severities. We then run our models with data incorporating different rates of exposure to disease by men and women of all ages.
EcoHealth Alliance has spent the last 40 years addressing complex environmental and social challenges through multidisciplinary collaborative international networks. The IDEEAL project leverages our experience in building successful partnerships, developing outreach programs, and our specific expertise in modeling disease emergence and its economic implications. Developing an economic cost/benefit analysis of land-use change in relation to health requires specific information on the frequency of disease emergence and outbreaks, and the impact on individuals, on communities, and on production, trade and travel. Our approach for the IDEEAL project brings together these components to produce actionable information for local stakeholders and decision makers to mitigate threats from climate change and emerging infectious disease.