Expert points out disease-wildlife connection

Dr Andrew Kiyu

KUCHING: Wildlife markets must be addressed seriously as a way to prevent the emergence of new infectious diseases, said Sarawak epidemiologist Professor Datuk Dr Andrew Kiyu Dawie Usop.

He explained that the infectious diseases were coming from infected animals.

“We have to remember that Covid-19 is an emerging infectious disease. Seventy-five percent of emerging infectious diseases are zoonosis, which means they come from animals.

“The Covid-19 virus emerged from the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) virus since 2003. Before that, we have the Nipah outbreak in 1998,” he said in the Health Talk Series programme entitled ‘Covid-19: Facts vs Myths’ streamed live over Universiti Malaysia Sarawak’s (Unimas) official Facebook page today.

Stressing that there is a need to impose stringent measures to limit trading of wildlife, Dr Kiyu said the pandemic resulted from environmental imbalance in the human-animal interface.

“We need to remember that bats were found to be the reservoir of the virus in Wuhan, China.

“We need to limit or ban wildlife markets. They sell dead as well as live animals.

“So even before we talk about how to deal with the outbreak, we have to prevent the pre-occurring event.

“The imbalance of our ecosystem today is because the animals now don’t have space to roam in, so they can’t even protect themselves.

“So, the viruses have to jump to humans, just like Covid-19 has done,” he said.

He added that the rapid spread of the Covid-19 virus had overwhelmed the capacity of the whole system in many countries, including Malaysia.

“There are going to be various measures so that the health system will not overload as well as giving us time to increase the system’s capacity.

“Basically, the symptoms of an overload system, in Sarawak General Hospital for example, are shortages of personal protective equipment (PPE), intensive care unit(ICU) beds, ventilators and testing capacity, as well as burnout of frontliners, among others. This is what happened during the first wave of Covid-19,” he said.