Movement - animal and human - key to pandemics - Albuquerque Journal

Movement – animal and human – key to pandemics

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the coming weeks will test how Americans respond to restrictions of their civil liberties. Surges in grocery store visits combined with elevating panic on social media and non-compliance with public health recommendations suggest that challenges are ahead. But, especially for those of us with homes and jobs, it isn’t our own freedom of movement that we should be most concerned about.

More concerning restrictions on freedom of movement are those that affect some of the most vulnerable populations to the pandemic, such as asylum seekers held at our southern border and in detention centers across the United States, including in New Mexico. Many countries have already tightened or closed their borders to migrants fleeing realities far worse than the novel coronavirus. As a result, migrants are often forced to stay in small camps, where the risk for disease transmission rises with increased crowding. Likewise, an outbreak can spread quickly in detention centers, where detainees have few liberties and limited access to health care. Currently, ICE is ignoring recommendations to release immigrant detainees to slow the spread of coronavirus.

Paradoxically, it is probable that restrictions on freedom of movement led to this pandemic. The likely source of COVID-19 was animal markets in China, where the 2003 Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) epidemic – also a coronavirus – similarly emerged. In these markets, animals are kept in small cages, piled on top of one another, and bought alive to be killed on the spot. The practice is not unique to China. Nor is the practice of confining mammals, birds and other animals for food production. In the United States, almost 10 billion animals are killed every year after being kept in confined animal feeding operations, also called factory farms. In 2009, the H1N1 virus, the so-called “swine flu,” most probably emerged as a result of pig confinement in the United States and Mexico. Factory farms are also responsible for environmental injustices against vulnerable people, including air, water and soil pollution.

Once we get through the current pandemic – and we will – we will have serious occasion to reevaluate how we treat the right to freedom of movement, including that of animals. Seen through a clear lens, the newest coronavirus is a symptom of our inattention to the biological link between basic liberties and health, and the indisputable connection between the welfare of people, animals and the planet. We should not miss this opportunity to look more deeply at the roots of “symptoms” such as COVID-19 or H1N1 in order to abate further disease and suffering.

As people across the country find themselves increasingly unable to travel amid the COVID-19 outbreaks occurring worldwide, now is the time for us to think critically about the links between basic human and animal rights and health outcomes. Medical and public health professionals, historians and scientists increasingly recognize these relationships, which are borne out in our communities and in our global market. Although we can each make a difference through individual choices, we also need policy change to help shift norms and everyday practice.

State and local health departments, national governments and international organizations like the World Health Organization can take this chance to fully embrace the importance of rights in their mission to include those that animals share with us. Some policymakers are already moving in this direction. China recently shut down the farming of wildlife, and Vietnam’s prime minister called for a similar ban. Closer to home, in 2019, U.S. Sen. Cory Booker unveiled legislation that would place a national moratorium on large factory farms that confine animals.

All of these measures would lead to health benefits for some of the most vulnerable people and animals, and they should be viewed as important first steps. Without increased attention to the relationship between basic rights and health – for everyone – one health crisis will continue to follow another.

Dr. Hope Ferdowsian is a medical expert for Physicians for Human Rights and president of the Phoenix Zones Initiative.


Home » Opinion » Guest Columns » Movement – animal and human – key to pandemics

Insert Question Legislature form in Legis only stories

Albuquerque Journal and its reporters are committed to telling the stories of our community.

• Do you have a question you want someone to try to answer for you? Do you have a bright spot you want to share?
   We want to hear from you. Please email

taboola desktop

ABQjournal can get you answers in all pages


Questions about the Legislature?
Albuquerque Journal can get you answers
Email addresses are used solely for verification and to speed the verification process for repeat questioners.
Medicaid provider procurement process canceled
From the newspaper
HSD says decision made after departures ... HSD says decision made after departures of Secretary Scrase and Medicaid Director Nicole Comeaux
Last year's No. 2 UNM cross country team receives ...
The 2022 national runner-up University of ... The 2022 national runner-up University of New Mexico women’s cross country team included seven runners, all of whom were named all-academic for the 2022 ...
No drama for birthday llama: ABQ llama celebrates 27th ...
ABQnews Seeker
'This llama is bringing everyone together,' ... 'This llama is bringing everyone together,' says family friend
Rebel Donut suffers 'extensive damage' from weekend fire
... ...
UNM College of Nursing programs receive high ranking from ...
ABQnews Seeker
The University of New Mexico's College ... The University of New Mexico's College of Nursing online master of science in nursing programs ...
SB 9 will leave a legacy of conservation
From the newspaper
OPINION: Buy-in from diverse constituencies reflects ... OPINION: Buy-in from diverse constituencies reflects importance of what's at stake.
Bill would allow New Mexico cities, counties, tribes to ...
ABQnews Seeker
The proposed legislation would allow local ... The proposed legislation would allow local governments to take over electric generation from privately run utilities.
Students need financial literacy as a graduation requirement
From the newspaper
OPINION: Without basic personal finance education, ... OPINION: Without basic personal finance education, far too many employees turn to check-cashing outlets and get charged unnecessary fees, take out high-interest loans, or ...
NM needs to act quick to attract and keep ...
From the newspaper
OPINION: The average age of physicians ... OPINION: The average age of physicians in New Mexico is 53, so we can predict increasing shortages as retirements occur.