By Sharon Atieno

In order to prevent  the future occurrence of pandemics like COVID-19, the World Health Organization( WHO) has joined the campaign calling for a halt to the sale of live wild animals in food markets.

In the guidelines issued in partnership with United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)and World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), the agencies noted that though traditional markets play a central role in providing food and livelihoods for large populations, banning the sale of these animals can protect people’s health- both those who work there and the customers.

They observed that there was a linkage between the emerging zoonotic diseases and the wildlife trade. Wild animals are the source of more than 70% of all emerging infectious diseases in humans, many of which are caused by novel viruses and wild mammals, in particular, pose a risk for the emergence of new disease, WHO tweeted.

“Traditional markets, where live animals are held, slaughtered and dressed, pose a particular risk for pathogen transmission to workers and customers alike,” the guidelines stated.

Many of the earliest known cases of COVID-19 had a link to a wholesale traditional food market in Chinese City of Wuhan. Many of the initial COVID-19 patients were stall owners, market employees or regular visitors to this market.

Besides the halt to the sale of the wild animals especially mammals, the agencies also called for governments to close markets, or section of markets and to re-open them “only on condition that they meet required food safety, hygiene and environmental standards and comply with regulations.”

This call, comes almost a year after more than 300 organizations called for a permanent ban on live wildlife markets.

Welcoming the move, World Animal Protection (WAP), Global Head of Campaign, Gilbert Sape said in a statement, “ The WHO are right to call for a halt on the sale of wild animals in food markets, and this is echoed by hundreds of wildlife organisations and experts that made this appeal last year. But more action must be taken urgently.”

He added that our best hope was for definitive coordinated actions, by key decision makers like the G20, to endorse and implement a global wildlife trade ban to end this cruel trade, and to help prevent devastating future zoonotic pandemics like COVID-19 happening again.