Whence the next pandemic? The intersecting global geography of the animal-human interface, poor health systems and air transit centrality reveals conduits for high-impact spillover

15 October 2020

The health and economic impacts of infectious disease pandemics are catastrophic as most recently manifested by coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). The emerging infections that lead to substantive epidemics or pandemics are typically zoonoses that cross species boundaries at vulnerable points of animal-human interface. The sharing of space between wildlife and humans, and their domesticated animals, has dramatically increased in recent decades and is a key driver of pathogen spillover. Increasing animal-human interface has also occurred in concert with both increasing globalisation and failing health systems, resulting in a trifecta with dire implications for human and animal health. Nevertheless, to date we lack a geographical description of this trifecta that can be applied strategically to pandemic prevention. This investigation provides the first geographical quantification of the intersection of animal-human interfaces, poor human health system performance and global connectivity via the network of air travel. In so doing, this work provides a systematic, data-driven approach to classifying spillover hazard based on the distribution of animal-human interfaces while simultaneously identifying globally connected cities that are adjacent to these interfaces and which may facilitate global pathogen dissemination. We present this geography of high-impact spillover as a tool for developing targeted surveillance systems and improved health infrastructure in vulnerable areas that may present conduits for future pandemics.