Opinion: Youth have a role to play in preventing the next pandemic

1 month ago 8

As a student at Princeton University, I felt the weight of the pandemic affecting my life.

After losing nearly a year and a half of college experiences and missing out on countless academic, professional and extracurricular opportunities, students and young professionals are mourning the losses of the pandemic. One thing we are left with is a greater understanding of the importance of global health protection, such that we feel a collective sense of responsibility to prevent the next global health crisis from harming us and future generations. With the rise of social media, my generation has grown up with the power of technology and influence. But now, more than ever — spurred by this greater sense of awareness of our future — we are using our platforms to express our need for real change in the wake of the pandemic.

As the most technologically equipped generation to ever live, young people constantly consume content, furthering our understandings of things such as climate change, BLM, Me-Too and, now, pandemic prevention. Even though the origin of COVID-19 is unknown, the threat of zoonotic diseases, or diseases that spread from animals to humans, remains notable. Curtailing future global health crisis, as young people are now understanding, is more than just masking up. It entails preventing biodiversity loss and strengthening community-oriented conservation efforts to protect wildlife and wildlands.

As an intern at African Wildlife Foundation, I have come to understand that the illegal wildlife trade (IWT) and consumption of animals in “wet” markets poses a global health threat. Conserving endangered species, such as pangolins, rhinos and elephants, which are illegally poached and traded in wet markets around the world, begins with strengthening education and changing human behaviors. The United States can help by supporting sustainable development in African countries and international conservation programs, but it must ensure that African experts have a seat at the table to create regulatory systems and law enforcement framework to end IWT and help stop biodiversity loss.

Doing this is no simple task. But as youth, we can begin to use our voice to change the opinions of those in power and encourage the development of international policy to accomplish this goal.

Supporting the passage of policies such as The Global Pandemic Prevention and Biosecurity Act is crucial. This bill,  introduced by Reps. Grace Meng , D-N.Y., and Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., and Sens. Chris Coons, D.N.J., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., establishes a Global Zoonotic Disease Task Force to prevent and detect the emergence and spread of these diseases. It additionally aims to find and shut down live wildlife markets that pose risk for the rise of zoonotic diseases. Powerful bills such as these are crucial to securing a safe future for youth and generations to come.

Using our voice and platform, expressing the necessity of this bill and other legislation coming through the pipeline is vital.

As residents of the Bay Area, we have grown up with a normalized experience of being environmentally conscious, making us uniquely prepared to be engaged in conversations about conservation, climate change and other critical issues.

Our social networks have the ability to influence others and motivate all levels of government to act swiftly and powerfully in the wake of the pandemic. Together, we can encourage our followers to protect wildlife and strengthen wildlife economies and local communities in critical places such as Africa.

Beyond social media, young people can contact their local representatives and members of Congress and urge them to support the bills that will protect our future. It’s our time to step up, stand together and fight for our right to live with a safe future guaranteed.

Melina Mahood, of Los Gatos, is a junior at Princeton University.

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