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Toward an integrated surveillance of potential zoonotic Betacoronaviruses in the wild animal value chain of Cambodia (ZooCoV)

The COVID-19 pandemic once again draws attention on zoonotic diseases and their impact on public health. Over the last 20 years three of the major epidemics (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome – SARS, Middle East Respiratory Syndrome – MERS and the COVID-19) shows that potential transmission of pathogens from animal to humans are a serious threat to public health. More than 70% of zoonotic emerging infectious diseases events are caused by pathogens from wildlife origin, and among the pathogens responsible for these emergences, Coronaviruses (CoVs) are common and widely distributed broadly among humans, other mammals, and birds.

Nevertheless, wildlife trade and bushmeat consumption remain popular throughout Southeast Asia, is important economically but also may increase the risk of transmission of pathogens from wildlife to humans. Therefore, the French Research Agency (ANR), Region Occitanie and the Pasteur Foundation Asia jointly funded the ZooCoV international research project led by CIRAD (International Center of Research in Agronomy for Development) to better address the risk this trade and consumption practices represent for the local population in Cambodia. The project started in April 2020 for an initial period of 18 months.

The ZooCoV project, coordinated by Dr Veronique Chevalier (CIRAD) will be conducted in two provinces of Cambodia, Mondolkiri and Stung Treng. Its “One Health” approach implicates multidisciplinary actors at both local, national and international level such as the Ministry of Health, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Environment, the Forestry Administration, the Institut Pasteur du Cambodge, local authorities of the provinces where the study is deployed but also the Wildlife Conservation Society, Flora and Fauna International, the French Institute of Research for Development (IRD) and Hong Kong University.

All along this project the team will implement targeted sociological –interviews and direct observations, epidemiological and virologic surveys – sampling of both wildlife and people, in provinces of concern, to describe and analyse the wild animal value chains , to describe the diversity of betacoronaviruses the population could be exposed to, to characterize and quantify the risks of spill over and analyse the perception of these risks by the communities.

The ultimate goal is to provide new data and knowledge on wildlife trade in Cambodia, and contribute to enhance the existing Wildlife Health Surveillance System, and to early detect potential transmission of pathogens from animal to human that could represent a threat to public health.

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