Establishing Biosurveillance Networks in Western Asia
Western Asia represents a regional hotspot for emerging infectious diseases, yet wildlife species that potentially harbor these pathogens are understudied. EcoHealth Alliance is working with regional collaborators to create the first-ever wildlife biosurveillance network in Western Asia to identify, track, and analyze zoonotic pathogens in the region, particularly within bat populations.
Bats are exceedingly diverse (1,300+ species globally), highly mobile, and ecologically and economically important wildlife, but are also natural hosts to infectious pathogens that can infect humans. Research on the diversity and distribution of bat species in Western Asia is severely limited, which affects our understanding of the bat-borne pathogens in the region that may threaten human and wildlife health.
The hotspots map of global emerging disease developed by EcoHealth Alliance identifies Western Asia as a region where zoonotic disease could potentially spillover into human populations. However, we know relatively little about what pathogens are circulating in wildlife in the region, or if there is a genuine on-the-ground threat of bat-borne pathogens to humans, livestock, and other wildlife species. EcoHealth Alliance aims to change this.
In October 2017, EcoHealth Alliance launched a collaborative One Health research project to fill this gap: the Western Asia Bat Research Network (WAB-Net). The primary goal of this new project is to characterize the diversity of bats and associated coronaviruses in the region. Specifically, scientists from EcoHealth Alliance will provide hands-on training in safely capturing and handling bats to obtain non-lethal samples that will be sent to regional laboratories for the detection of coronaviruses. A second goal of WAB-Net is to establish a network of bat researchers and public health experts to promote collaborations in zoonotic disease research and biosurveillance. Using a One Health framework, WAB-Net aims to identify win-win solutions to reduce the threat of zoonotic pathogens to human health and promote bat conservation in Western Asia.
Currently, WAB-Net is working closely with scientists in four high-engagement countries in the region, including representatives from the R. Lugar Public Health Research Center (Georgia), Royal Scientific Society (Jordan), Boğaziçi University (Turkey), and the University of Veterinary & Animal Sciences – Lahore (Pakistan). WAB-Net will support field-to-lab fellowships between countries and embody a “Bats for Peace” mission by promoting data-sharing and a culture of meaningful transboundary scientific collaboration, especially as participation in WAB-Net expands across the region.
WAB-Net is fully funded by a grant from the Cooperative Biological Engagement Program of the United States Department of Defense – Defense Threat Reduction Agency.