August 31, 2020
Perhaps one of the greatest lessons from COVID-19 is that the world is not nearly prepared enough to fight emerging infectious diseases. Pandemics leave in their wake loss of life, major economic devastation, mental health crises and other unprecedented societal disruptions. By targeting the critical inflection points where novel pathogens make the jump from animals to humans, however, it is possible to avoid these catastrophes altogether.
EcoHealth Alliance, a nonprofit working at the intersection of animal, environmental and human health on a global scale, has announced its latest program: The Emerging Infectious Diseases Southeast Asia Research Collaboration Hub (EID-SEARCH). This is one of a new group of Centers for Research in Emerging Infectious Diseases supported by the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the National Institutes of Health, with a grant of $7.5 million over five years.
“NIAID’s investment in Centers to tackle emerging diseases internationally is a great step in the right direction to preventing the next COVID,” said EcoHealth Alliance President and EID-SEARCH Principal Investigator Peter Daszak, PhD. “As we’ve seen, an outbreak anywhere can easily become a pandemic everywhere. Focusing research on emerging disease hotspots around the world protects every one of us.”
The high biodiversity and rapid rate of land-use change in Southeast Asia make it a prime location for new and emerging diseases, but also present an opportunity to design solutions for stamping out viral threats at their source.
Collaborators on the new project include the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill; Conservation Medicine; government partners in Malaysia; Chulalongkorn Hospital in Thailand; Duke-National University of Singapore; and Uniformed Services University in the United States.
“With this Center, we will gain a better understanding of what viruses are out there in reservoir species and whether or not they have the potential to spill over into humans,” said Timothy Sheahan, PhD, an assistant professor in the Department of Epidemiology at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health. “The goal is to be better prepared for the next emerging viral pandemic.”
EID-SEARCH members will work in regions of Southeast Asia, on the front line of emerging diseases, to identify risks for novel viruses spilling over from animals to people. Teams will conduct harm-free sampling of local wildlife species to determine which pathogens are circulating, and they will work with communities to identify high risk behaviors, test people for evidence of viral infection and identify ‘cryptic outbreaks’ caused by viruses that could become the next Disease X.
EID-SEARCH will be funded under NIAID grant #U01AI151797. The award is one of 11 grants made by NIAID to establish a network of Centers around the globe in locations where emerging and re-emerging infectious disease outbreaks are likely to occur. Interdisciplinary teams of investigators in the program will conduct pathogen and host surveillance, study pathogen transmission, pathogenesis and immunologic responses in the hosts, and will develop reagents and diagnostic assays for improved detection of important emerging pathogens and their vectors. For more information, visit www.niaidcreid.org.
Building on more than 45 years of groundbreaking science, EcoHealth Alliance is a global nonprofit organization dedicated to protecting wildlife, environmental and public health from the emergence of disease. Approximately 60% of emerging infectious diseases — like Ebola, HIV, Zika, SARS, MERS, West Nile virus and, now, SARS-CoV-2 — originate in animals before spilling over to human populations. Using environmental and health data covering the past 60 years, EcoHealth Alliance scientists have created the first-ever global disease hotspots map to identify at-risk regions and determine where research and field work are needed to help predict and prevent the next pandemic crisis. That work is the foundation of EcoHealth Alliance’s rigorous, science-based approach in nearly 30 countries worldwide. EcoHealth Alliance’s strength is founded on innovations in research, training, global partnerships, capacity building and policy initiatives. Learn more at www.ecohealthalliance.org.
Contact the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health communications team at firstname.lastname@example.org.