Bounce Back Better: Sustainable Strategies for a Healthy Recovery from the Pandemic

“The pandemic is a reminder of the intimate and delicate relationship between people and planet. Any efforts to make our world safer are doomed to fail unless they address the critical interface between people and pathogens, and the existential threat of climate change, that is making our Earth less habitable.”

-WHO Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.Address to the 73rd World Health Assembly. May 18th 2020.

The American Thoracic Society (ATS), European Respiratory Society (ERS) and International Society for Environmental Epidemiology (ISEE) are dedicated to improving health around the globe, with ATS and ERS achieving this goal by advancing research, patient care and public health in pulmonary diseases, while ISEE advances research on environment and health. The COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 has presented unprecedented challenges on multiple fronts. Like the climate emergency, the COVID-19 pandemic is an existential threat.

This novel zoonotic disease, like others in the past, emerged from a shrinking wildlife habitat. Unlike many other zoonoses, COVID-19 hitched a ride on our globalized and highly mobile society to rapidly devastate populations worldwide (1). The virus has exposed the massive disparities in social determinants of health faced by most of the world’s population, including poor access to health care and structural inequalities that promote unhealthy living (2). Minority status and economic inequality are plainly visible in the pandemic epidemiology, serving as a pressing call to action.

This crisis offers a global opportunity to leap forward instead of slipping back into unsustainable and unhealthy ways of the past. A robust systemic response to the pandemic recovery can better equip us to face the climate emergency that threatens the health of people of all ages across the globe. Society has demanded, and received, extraordinary courage and stamina from frontline providers, including those providing food and other critical services, families and healthcare professionals risking their lives to care for the sick and vulnerable and every person who has stepped forward to help those in need during this unprecedented public health crisis. We have come together in neighborhood support groups, online and physically distanced gatherings.

For the sake of health, we have made tremendous economic sacrifices. Recovery from the pandemic will be difficult and costly, but it is also an opportunity to re-think spending priorities and make decisions that will improve human health and well-being for generations. In this letter we voice our support for the WHO Manifesto for a healthy recovery from COVID-19 and, using an example from the European Commission, outline major opportunities to improve global health and ensure a sustainable future as we move ahead beyond COVID-19.

The WHO Manifesto has six major points, all of which align with the missions of ATS, ERS and ISEE.

Read the detailed statement and recommendations here.