Looking Back Before We Move Forward

At EcoHealth Alliance, we—as many of you surely do–like to take a moment at the beginning of each year to reflect on the progress we’ve made. We are, first and foremost, a community of scientists and self-evaluation is an important part of the scientific process.

Last year was a big one for us. While continuing our outreach to communities around the globe, we began work in Cote d’Ivoire, the Republic of Congo, Pakistan, Georgia, and Turkey, bringing the number of countries where our scientists and partners are working daily to 25. These countries span four continents and countless precious ecosystems. It is our mission to spread the idea of One Health–that the health of humans, wildlife, and the environment are inexorably linked–around the globe.

We were also busy domestically too. Our scientists published 30 papers in peer-reviewed journals in 2017. One of those, published in October in Nature Communications, was an update to our revolutionary global emerging disease hotspots map, first published in 2008. Hotspots 2.0 illustrates parts of the world most at risk for emerging disease with never-before-seen accuracy. It’s a tool both for us, as we continue to grow our global impact, and for the scientific community at large, serving as a beacon to guide future studies. We are most proud of Hotspots 2.0 because we truly believe that this map can help stop emerging diseases before they spread, saving lives in the process.

EcoHealth Alliance's Hotspots Map of Global Pandemic Risk
EcoHealth Alliance’s latest global emerging disease hotspots map was published in October

And in June of last year Nature published a paper entitled “Host and viral traits predict zoonotic spillover from mammals,” the culmination of eight years of work by EcoHealth Alliance scientists. For this study, our scientists built a comprehensive database of all known viruses which infect more than 750 mammal species. We then analyzed these data to predict where as-yet-undiscovered viruses may be lurking. The study also concluded that bats carry a significantly higher proportion of viruses able to infect people than any other group of mammal.

It is this finding which we believe reinforces our commitment to the One Health mindset. Bats may carry a high percentage of viruses which can infect humans, but they also perform an important role in the perpetuation of global ecosystems. Not only do bats play a part in the pollination and seed dispersal of plants, they also control populations of insect crop pests and disease vectors.

It is only by considering the important connections between humans, wildlife, and the environment that we can maintain the health of all three.

Our fieldwork continued globally in 2017. In South Africa alone, we sampled more than 4,500 wild and domestic animals and around 500 people as we continue to develop a strategy to predict and prevent future outbreaks of Rift Valley Fever, which can be devastating to the livestock production that drives rural life outside Cape Town.

Dr. Melinda Rostal conducts research on Rift Valley fever.
Senior Research Scientist Dr. Mindy Rostal conducts field research on Rift Valley Fever in South Africa

None of this would have been possible without you, our supporters. This work is made possible because you understand that meaningful conservation starts with impactful research. Whether you donated, helped us to spread the word of One Health, or simply believed in us, we thank you, truly, and look forward to an even brighter 2018.