Bushmeat, wet markets, and the risks of pandemics: Exploring the nexus through systematic review of scientific disclosures

In Environmental Science and Policy
Volume (Issue): 124
Peer-reviewed Article

The novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) is the third coronavirus this century to threaten human health, killing more than two million people globally. Like previous coronaviruses, SARS-CoV-2 is suspected to have wildlife origins and was possibly transmitted to humans via wet markets selling bushmeat (aka harvested wild meat). Thus, an interdisciplinary framework is vital to address the nexus between bushmeat, wet markets, and disease. We reviewed the contemporary scientific literature to (1) assess disease surveillance efforts within the bushmeat trade and wet markets globally by compiling zoonotic health risks based on primarily serological examinations, and (2) gauge perceptions of health risks associated with bushmeat and wet markets. Of the 58 species of bushmeat investigated across 15 countries in the 52 articles that we analyzed, one or more pathogens (totalling 60 genera of pathogens) were reported in 48 species, while no zoonotic pathogens were reported in 10 species based on serology. Burden of disease data was nearly absent from the articles resulting from our Scopus search and therefore was not included in our analyses. We also found that perceived health risks associated with bushmeat were low, though we could not perform statistical analyses due to the lack of quantitative perception-based studies. After screening the literature, our results showed that the global distribution of reported bushmeat studies was biased towards Africa, revealing data deficiencies across Asia and South America despite the prevalence of the bushmeat trade across the Global South. Studies targeting implications of the bushmeat trade on human health can help address these data deficiencies across Asia and South America. We further illustrate the need to address the nexus between bushmeat, wet markets, and disease to help prevent future outbreaks of zoonotic diseases under the previously proposed “One Health Framework”, which integrates human, animal, and environmental health. By tackling these three pillars, we discuss the current policy gaps and recommend suitable measures to prevent future disease outbreaks.