We need COVID-19 research that is human-relevant – and humane
Around the globe, governments, researchers, clinicians and companies are working like never before to find and test treatments, develop vaccines, and design strategies to limit the transmission of COVID-19. Animal experimentation is one of the approaches used in this research, which as well as only partially approximating the behaviour of COVID-19 in humans, adds to the suffering caused by this pandemic.
Genetically modified mice infected with the coronavirus, for example, frequently experience severe suffering involving laboured breathing, lethargy and death. These animals and their experiences matter, and their suffering presents a significant ethical issue for society as a whole.
In a joint statement released today by Cruelty Free International, Cruelty Free Europe, Eurogroup for Animals and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals Foundation, the animal protection organisations stress that it is is essential that authorities – under the leadership of the World Health Organization (WHO) – work together with a focus on humane, human-relevant research. As huge numbers of animals and billions of dollars, pounds, and euros are being directed towards trying to solve the problem, it is vital that the scientific and technical merits and ethical aspects of proposed research are robustly assessed in each and every case.
It is also imperative that countries and institutions try to coordinate their research, sharing data to prevent any duplication of effort or repeated testing on animals, and that they focus on the use of humane and human-relevant methods. There’s also an urgent need for more resources to be directed towards studying the virus in humans to increase our understanding of the disease, treat patients and limit the spread of the virus.
The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will have a long-lasting effect on our societies and our work, and this change of paradigm should also be reflected in the way we carry out research, there is an urgent need to focus on advanced scientific techniques that are more representative of what actually happens in the human body, than old ways including the use of animals. It’s crucial that the WHO and other authorities acknowledge that many animals are suffering too, and that they help to focus the research efforts of governments, researchers, clinicians and companies towards more humane and human-relevant approaches.Reineke Hameleers, CEO of Eurogroup for Animals