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We are in dire need of a wake-up call. Image: Dasser Kamran/Fulcrum
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Humans collectively failed to take responsibility for actions that caused the pandemic and instead opted to deal with the consequences

Dear Editor,

Picture this: September 2019. You were starting a new semester in university. Maybe as a first-year, attending frosh events and parties with friends. Or perhaps as a graduate student, weary-eyed and on the home stretch to obtaining your Master’s degree. But regardless of your situation, the last thing on your mind was a pandemic. Ha. Pandemics! A thing relegated to history books and apocalyptic movies.  

Yet one doesn’t need to plunge into dusty history books to realize that infectious diseases experts have been warning us for years that our world was long overdue for a pandemic. Despite the evidence, international leaders decided: Why not wait and see what happens?  

As foreseen, the ticking time bomb finally exploded in December 2019, in the city of Wuhan in China. How could this happen? Was it the bat? The pangolin? No, it was us. Us humans. And it’s not likely to be the last event of its kind in our lifetime. In fact, experts warn that we may be entering an ‘era of pandemics’ and that this is Earth’s way of crying out for help. 

As the world population increases exponentially, people are looking for new places to live — and in doing so destroy ecosystems to build more dwellings, raise livestock, and grow crops. Thus, the original inhabitants of the land such as bats and other critters seek new places to feed, often in close proximity to humans. Hitchhiking on these animals are microbes to which humans, their pets, and livestock have yet to be exposed. Field experts report that more than five new diseases are identified in humans every year, each with its own pandemic potential. 

Shouldn’t we be concerned? Shouldn’t we address the root cause of the issue: humankind’s blatant disregard and interference with nature? 

As a soon-to-be graduating nursing student, I’ve come to realize that health sciences programs, although intensive, unquestionably fail to address humans’ interconnectedness with animals and nature, known as the One Health approach. Never once in my classes have we addressed how human health and well-being are intrinsically related to that of the environment. We’ve collectively failed to take responsibility for the actions that caused the COVID-19 pandemic and instead opted to deal with the consequences. Our current healthcare system is facing unprecedented pressure and future healthcare workers will not be prepared to confront such challenges. We are in dire need of a wake-up call. 

I am urgently calling on all health professions educators to integrate One Health principles into curricula. It is not solely up to infectious disease experts to take action: it’s time for all healthcare workers to collaborate with leaders at the animal and ecosystem interface. We must advocate for a healthier environment, just like we do for our patients.  

Our planet is vulnerable and needs a voice. If the world is truly entering the era of pandemics, healthcare workers and educators must act with urgency before the next pandemic strikes with more devastating effects than ever before.  

Maëla Séguin is a fourth-year student in the University of Ottawa’s nursing program.