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PREDICTing the next Pandemic
PREDICT program was launched in 2009 by USAID to detect potential zoonotic viruses which can cause pandemic. However, the funding ran out and program was ceased in year 2019, just weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic. Resuming of programs like PREDICT can help the world avert potential pandemics and save millions of lives through proactive monitoring and preparedness.
In September 2019, when United States Agency for International Development (USAID) ended the funding for the PREDICT program, some public health experts raised concerns about potential impacts of this decision. Fast-forward to end of 2019 and just weeks after the suspension, severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) pandemic started.
Launched in 2009, as a response to 2005 highly pathogenic avian influenza virus H5N1(Bird Flu) pandemic, PREDICT program was initiated to detect zoonotic viruses with pandemic potentials like MERS, HIV, Nipah, and many others . The program followed various approaches like surveillance, pathogen discovery and diagnostics, behavioral risk and analytics to identify potential threats and helped in making strategies for control and mitigation of the pathogens. Apart from training Individuals and developing labs for virus identification, PREDICT also made strategies to curb practices that could encourage transfer of such pathogens from animals to humans.
In 10 years, PREDICT program identified 1200 new viruses including a new strain of Ebola and over 160 strains of novel Coronavirus . Although the entire program costed over 200 million USD, it is still less than 5 billion USD that United States spent in response to Ebola in Africa or about 2 trillion USD in response to Corona outbreak as of now [3-5]. Researchers from PREDICT program had warned in 2015 about potential emergence of Bat coronavirus in humans, while also identifying Wuhan region as one hotspot for a potential spillover . PREDICT is also being utilized as a response for SARS-CoV-2 and it has helped in making sequence libraries, rapid isolation, and global data sharing .
Apart from success in pathogen detection, USAID has promised further 85 million USD to various institutes in Africa and Asia to teach One Health approach of PREDICT . Other agencies such as National Institutes of Health (NIH) and Defense Threat Reduction Agency (US Department of Defense) have also undertaken some projects of the PREDICT program but for different missions . While identifying the impact of the PREDICT program, an emergency 6-month extension was granted to assist with SARS-CoV-2 response .
Suspension of the PREDICT program by the government has faced backlash over social media by US citizens and lawmakers with some senators writing a letter to USAID to demand details on their decision to seize funding . Although the USAID has stated they are planning to build a successor for the PREDICT program, there has been no detail available about the program as of now. Meanwhile, health experts raised concern over seizing of funding as it would result in a loss of momentum for the program.
While there is no certainty that PREDICT would have completely saved us from SARS-CoV-2 outbreak with proper funding, till now it is our best bet to identify such harmful pathogens. With over 300,000 unidentified viruses, the spread of SARS-CoV-2 has made us aware of our vulnerability despite the scientific advancements . Programs like PREDICT can help us avert potential pandemics and save billions of dollars from the pandemic response with proper monitoring, multidisciplinary collaborations and constant funding without momentum loss. Moreover, use of PREDICT project by other agencies highlight the value of the program. Cutting off the funding without a satisfactory successor could prove catastrophic, if more such unidentified viruses cross the interspecies barrier and start another pandemic.
“Programs like PREDICT can help us avert potential pandemics and save billions of dollars from the pandemic response with proper monitoring, multidisciplinary collaborations and research funding.”
– Qualiten Press
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Cite this Content: Hussain A, Soni BL, Kumar A. Predicting the next pandemic. Qualiten Insight. 2021; ID:09002000003
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