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COVID-19 Health

Is COVID-19 a call for humanity to evolve?

This is the second article from PlaHNet YP on humanity’s recovery following the COVID-19 pandemic. You can read the first, Reducing the Mental Health Burden of COVID-19, here. This piece was authored by Pearl Anne Ante-Testard, Kurt M. Mamisao, and Janice N. Averilla.

Charles Darwin was the first to postulate the theory of evolution persuasively. According to his theory, the individuals and species that are most likely to survive are those who can best adapt to a new environment. From a single-celled organism, we have further grown to what we are now. As humans, we have changed with our brains according to what a particular situation requires of us. Undoubtedly, we have transformed into a species with a brain capable of processing complex information, emotions, and environmental stimuli, and interpreting all of them simultaneously. It helped us form a conceptual understanding of the world around us.

With our evolution as an organism, our societies have also progressed with us. Unsurprisingly, societies have transformed depending on the challenges of the era — from Stone Age to Industrial Revolution to Neoliberalism in the beginning of the 19th century — civilisations have endured many difficulties in order to survive. Since then, we have given a lot of importance on economic growth despite the hazards of abolishing the balance in nature and waging wars amongst us. With our desire for greater things and economic developments as societies, we have slowly detached ourselves from nature.

Aerial shot of chimneys belching smoke, a result of human evolution.
Photo by Marcin Jozwiak from Pexels

We have seen natural calamities befall us due to the man-made changes we have done to the planet. We have cut down trees without replacing them, we have thrown non-biodegradable wastes into the oceans without thinking about the harmful effects, and we have largely depended on technological advances without considering the consequences of our actions. With urbanisation, we have chosen to transform enormous masses of forests to residential and agricultural lands. We have also relentlessly travelled through different modes of transportation such as planes, ships, and buses regardless of their contribution to massive carbon emissions.

With our detachment to nature, we have done collective actions that have ultimately led to the COVID-19 pandemic. Through research, we understood how COVID-19 came to be. It is highly due to a zoonotic spillover from wildlife trade in Wuhan, China. This happens when we destroy animal habitats, and the virus will eventually need a new host, and most often, it is us. This pandemic has shown us how connected we really are to nature. Whenever we disturb the Earth’s natural balance, it comes back to us in many forms — this time through a pandemic. Besides COVID-19, other diseases such as HIV/AIDS, Ebola, influenza, and MERS-Cov are caused by zoonotic spillovers. Advancements in medicine enabled us to survive these various diseases over the past centuries, and hopefully, it will be the same for COVID-19. However, we cannot depend on them all the time while waiting for the next outbreak. Our over-reliance on medicines such as antibiotics has caused one of the significant challenges of today — antimicrobial resistance.

During the emergence of COVID-19, the egoistic and capitalistic world that we built over the past centuries crumbled in an instant. We were forced to indefinitely abandon the life we were accustomed to and retreat to the confines of our homes. In the midst of this pandemic, perhaps we must rethink and ask whether this is nature’s way of telling us that it is time for us to evolve yet again. But what does it mean to evolve today? Does it mean we get to have larger brains or have superhuman strength and flying abilities? Certainly not. We believe that what nature calls for is an evolution of our human consciousness and thinking that will eventually change our behaviours. Perhaps it wants to awaken that part of us that have long forgotten our connection to nature.

a diagram showing the overlapping aspects of planetary health
Photo from PH Lab, Dr. Renzo Guinto MD DrPH

The Planetary Health paradigm can offer us this chance to evolve by reuniting humanity with nature. It is an emerging field which is conceptualised as “the health of human civilisation and the state of the natural systems on which it depends”. This paradigm shift from a human-centred society to a planet-responsible society can help bring about this needed change since the collective human consciousness has the ability to dictate the norms and standards across era and societies. If we take this crisis as a chance to evolve to a planet-responsible individual, our collective actions will eventually lead to the greater good of both humanity and our planet. We will become a society that understands and respects our interconnectedness with nature and all living things. We will strive for sustainable economic growth and create planet-sensitive technologies that will preserve the planet’s boundaries and integrity.

This evolution of our individual and ultimately, collective consciousness is needed if we want to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and survive in a post-COVID-19 society as human civilisation. Unfortunately, not all of us will evolve. Only those who are ready, able to adapt, and become what is called for, will. The question is, are you ready to evolve?

Acknowledgements:

We would like to thank Professor Konstantinos C. Makris of the Cyprus International Institute for Environmental and Public Health for his mentorship.

Pearl Anne Ante-Testard, RN, MPH: PAAT is a PhD student in the MESuRS laboratory at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers (CNAM), Paris, France; and Unité PACRI, Institut Pasteur and CNAM, Paris France. She is also a Planetary Health Campus Ambassador 2020 of the Planetary Health Alliance, and co-founder of the PlaHNet ofYoung Professionals.

Kurt M. Mamisao: KMM is a freelance instructional designer, technical writer and learning management system administrator. He is a co-founder of the PlaHNet of Young Professionals.

Janice N. AverillaPhD: JNA is a licensed chemist and postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Internal Medicine — Hepatology and Gastroenterology at the University of Kansas Medical Center, Kansas City, USA. She is a co-founder of the PlaHNet of Young Professionals.