top of page

Preventing Another Pandemic - Shamini Jayanathan

How the UK approach to terrorism can lead the way towards preventing another pandemic.


Shamini Jayanathan is the director of a criminal justice advisory service based in Kenya, and an associate tenant at Foundry Chambers, Chancery Lane, London (formerly 9-12 Bell Yard). Following nearly sixteen years practice as a criminal barrister in the UK, she has worked on behalf of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in East Africa as a criminal justice advisor on counter-terrorism and has advised Ministries and prosecutorial and judicial authorities worldwide, including Thailand, Cambodia and at least 18 jurisdictions across Africa in relation to prosecution and adjudication of international wildlife trafficking and other crimes.


Regarding zoonoses, a number of proposals have emerged in response to the urgent demand for governments to develop plans to counter the risk of a future pandemic. These include the establishment of a United Nations body to monitor and inspect high risk activities alongside a new international convention aimed specifically at zoonotic disease emergence, which would involve banning high risk wildlife markets and trade. There are calls for the adoption of a ‘one health’ approach that would unite medical, veterinary and environmental expertise to achieve enduring health for people, animals and environments alike. Another is a campaign to end wildlife crime through adoption of an international convention to act as a vehicle to promote stronger laws and enforcement against the illegal wildlife trade.

There is merit in all of these proposals. But they are impossible for many countries that suffer a weak rule of law to implement. In these states, even basic regulations go unenforced and the investigation and prosecution of serious organised crimes can be haphazard. This is not simply a matter of having weak laws. The issues are far more complex.

This author’s proposal, found at the bottom of the page, is to adopt a strategy based on the four pillars of the United Kingdom’s counter-terrorism strategy and apply it to zoonoses. This approach would enable countries to clearly identify and prioritise interventions in a way that will serve national needs, and prioritise where and how aid can be spent (where applicable). Rather than reinvent the wheel, this is where adapting an already successful strategy – in this case, counter terrorism - could be of help.

The British government first published its CONTEST strategy on countering terrorism in 2003. Since then, CONTEST has been revised three times . Despite the difficulties of developing metrics for measuring impact, its success has been recognised as one of the most effective soft-focus strategies in the world .

The aim of CONTEST has been to reduce the risk of terrorism to the UK and its interests abroad. Settled on four main pillars, the strategy provides a roadmap for interventions that guide UK policy and investment in this arena. These four pillars are:

Pursue: to stop terrorist attacks;

Prevent: to stop people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism;

Protect: to strengthen our protection against a terrorist attack;

Prepare: to mitigate the impact of a terrorist attack.

When applied to zoonoses, it is proposed that the CONTEST strategy be adapted to encompass the aggregate aims of prior conventions and declarations regarding humankind’s treatment of the environment, approach to utilisation of animals for human consumption and sustainable development goals relating to human health. In extrapolating CONTEST into the arena of pandemic prevention, with a particular focus on risks associated with zoonoses, the four pillars could be adapted towards a global, commitment against pandemics as follows:

PURSUE: To stop a global pandemic by addressing the criminal activities linked to the emergence of zoonoses;

PREVENT: To prevent a pandemic through education, research and investment;

PROTECT: To strengthen protection of our environment and biodiversity by reducing vulnerabilities to factors that could give rise to zoonoses;

PREPARE: To mitigate the impact of a future pandemics.

A more detailed discussion can be found in the concept note, but in essence each pillar draws upon expertise from the relevant sectors to enable a design of interventions that will vary depending on the country. For example:

‘Pursue’ draws on the expertise of investigators, criminal lawyers and those with the skills and experience in institutionalising best practice within the criminal justice sector e.g. developing centralised case intake in a prosecution service. The criminality involved in activities linked to zoonoses goes far beyond the illegal wildlife trade, cutting across crimes in relation to the environment, corruption, breaches of regulations governing agriculture, animal husbandry, the operation of ‘wet markets’ and more. Criminal justice expertise can play a key role in the creation of an holistic set of interventions that enable criminal justice systems as a whole to operate in ways which deter all crime.

‘Prevent’ draws on expertise from science, medicine, veterinary science, agriculture and to some extent law enforcement. Education experts also play a key role in relation to public education and advocacy of alternative protein sources. Addressing drivers of the illegal wildlife and bushmeat trade (e.g. poverty reduction) is a key component. Research into causes of zoonoses also fall under this pillar, as it also does under ‘Protect’.

‘Protect’ relies on wildlife and environmental conservationists. This sector is particularly well-suited to contribute on issues of biodiversity protection, expansion of protected area networks, conservation investment through public-private partnerships and mitigation of human wildlife conflict. Conservationists have vital skills when it comes to community engagement in strategies relating to managing natural resources such as wildlife, riparian and marine areas plus urban planning. Environmental risk mitigation e.g. desertification, erosion and pollution draws on expertise from a myriad of sectors to create effective interventions.

‘Prepare’ requires medical and emergency response expertise, the aviation and transport sectors, private enterprise and even military and law enforcement skills, addressing issues such as speed of lockdown, containment, quarantine, resourcing of PPE and rapid deployment of relevant knowledge.

Each pillar enables an almost instinctive identification of relevant expertise and a logical roadmap towards design and implementation. If adapted, the strategy can provide a meaningful roadmap for countries to develop bespoke interventions for the benefit of all. With a global recession predicted, resources must be spent wisely. The CONTEST strategy can help us do that.


Shamini can be contacted on

*All views are those of the author

20200810_Shamini Jayanathan_CONTEST_IWT
Download • 421KB


bottom of page