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Avian Influenza, HIV/AIDS, SARS, and Influenza H1N1: these diseases are not just infamous for their human and economic impact, they also share one common trait. All four of these diseases are animal-related; they are not the only of their kind.
Zoonotic diseases–those that can be transmitted between animals and humans–represent approximately 75 percent of the newly emerging diseases currently affecting people. In the context of globalization and expansive trade and travel, these diseases can travel very quickly, posing serious public health, development and economic concerns.
In an effort to identify and respond to new zoonotic diseases before they spread to humans, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) established its Emerging Pandemic Threats (EPT) program. The EPT program consists of four projects: PREDICT, RESPOND, IDENTIFY, and PREVENT. The PREDICT project seeks to identify new emerging infectious diseases that could become a threat to human health. PREDICT partners locate their research in geographic “hotspots” and focus on wildlife that are most likely to carry zoonotic diseases – animals such as bats, rodents, and nonhuman primates.
EcoHealth Alliance works at the leading edge of this field by building local capabilities and testing high-risk wildlife in Bangladesh, Côte d’Ivoire, Republic of Congo, China, Egypt, India, Indonesia, Jordan, Liberia, Malaysia, and Thailand. After scientists collect swabs or small amounts of blood, they analyze the samples in the lab to look for evidence of disease. The findings are catalogued in a database, that mathematical experts use to create predictive maps of potential disease outbreaks. This approach not only allows researchers to find new diseases, but also helps communities prepare for and respond to the threat of an outbreak.
The strongest foundation of EcoHealth Alliance research is the connection between local conservation and global health. EcoHealth Alliance goes beyond scientific fieldwork to support local researchers and actively build local capacity. As a PREDICT partner, EcoHealth Alliance works with scientists and policymakers in each country to create a network of research, communication, and response partners – on a local, regional, and global level.