Objective 5.8 - Maximalise the advantages for health arising from biodiversity and ecosystem services and expand the collaboration between the interested organisations / public services.
Inadequate attention is being paid to the important contributions biodiversity can make to human health. The links between biodiversity and human health are complex because they are often indirect, displaced in space and time, and dependent on a number of modifying forces. Human health ultimately depends on ecosystem products and services which are requisite for good human health and productive livelihoods, such as water and air purification, the provision of food and medicines, pest and disease control, medical research.
Since 2011 the Belgian Community of Practice Biodiversity and Health (COPBH), facilitated by the Belgian Biodiversity Platform, tries to enhance biodiversity & health related science, policy and practice in Belgium. The Belgian Biodiversity Platform is a science policy practice interface related to biodiversity issues, and is funded by the Belgian Federal Science Policy Office (BELSPO).
In 2011, the Belgian Biodiversity Platform organized a Belgian Biodiversity & Health conference (Keune et al. 2013). This event was where the COPBH was founded. The COPBH facilitates an online expert registry and newsletter, and some research project initiatives emerged from bigger and smaller meetings of the COPBH. Apart from scientific partners, there is also collaboration with practice organization, both with policy institutions and NGO’s. Recently, especially connections to the health sector are strengthened with collaboration with a Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences and the Province of Antwerp, with the launch of the Chair Care and the Natural Living Environment at the University of Antwerp. Within this collaborative context on October 4th a big networking event “Nature on prescription” (http://www.biodiversity.be/4035/) was organized with over 160 participants. Further, an advisory expert committee working within the framework of the Belgian Superior Health Council was initiated at the end of 2017, with support from the COPBH. The aim is to better connect to health care professionals and other relevant groups for collaboration. In 2016 the COPBH coordinated the organization of the European One Health/Ecohealth workshop in Brussels (see below). This is also an example of how the COPBH tries to enhance international contacts for Belgian experts and practitioners.
The COPBH tries to inspire research programs in relation to health and biodiversity topics, both at the Belgian and international level. An example is an overview of research needs and gaps which was produced before the start of a BELSPO research funding program called BRAIN, in order to inspire research calls regarding biodiversity & health; this overview was included as an addendum in the first BRAIN call where biodiversity & health issues were addressed. Further the COPBH works on mainstreaming & awareness raising by giving on demand introductory presentations, such as in 2017 in the Flemish Parliament, and support with state of the art overviews of scientific knowledge and practice projects. Finally, the COPBH also contributes to Belgian delegations to international processes such as Mapping and Assessment of Ecosystem Services (MAES), IPBES and CBD, focusing mainly on health-related issues.
Many species provide invaluable information for human medicine. By losing species, we lose the anatomical, physiological, behavioural information’s they contain.
Plants and microbes have long been, and remain today, an important basis for the development of medicines such as quinine, morphine, penicillin, etc. (approximately a quarter of all prescriptions are taken directly from plants or are chemically modified versions of plant substances and more than half of them are modelled on natural compounds). More recently, great attention has been paid to the potential development of important drugs from animals, some of which are often threatened by extinction.
By ensuring the sustainable productivity of soils and providing genetic resources for crops, livestock and marine species harvested for food, biodiversity also plays a crucial role in world food production and ensures a balanced diet (diversified agricultural agents maintain adequate food supply and prevent malnutrition). Furthermore, genetically diversified agricultural surfaces present a better resistance to environmental stresses, thus providing populations with greater nutritional safety.
Finally, accelerated biodiversity perturbations can have very negative impacts on the propagation of pre-existing transmissible diseases or even on the emergence of new ones, through modifications in vectors and/or target populations and in host-pathogen relationships. Studies of such relationships between biodiversity perturbation and increase in disease diffusion are starting to produce convincing results, as can be seen in the cases of malaria, schistosomiasis and also Lyme disease epidemiology.
There is a need to improve our understanding of the very strong existing link between human health and biodiversity, and consequently development. There should be particular support given to interdisciplinary research around these connected issues. The awareness of this link should be raised through educational programmes. Furthermore, collaboration between health and environment organisations and ministries should be improved to ensure that these issues are considered together when planning and implementing policies.