Government cuts research program for emerging diseases

Mackenzie Bean - Print  | 

The government is ending a surveillance program that identifies potentially dangerous animal viruses that could spread to humans, reports The New York Times.

The United States Agency for International Development created the Predict project 10 years ago in response to 2005's H5N1 bird flu scare. Through the $207 million initiative, researchers have identified more than 1,000 new viruses and trained about 5,000 people in Africa and Asia to conduct biological testing for virus identification.

Many public health experts are concerned the program's closure will hinder global efforts to prevent emerging diseases.

"Predict was an approach to heading off pandemics, instead of sitting there waiting for them to emerge and then mobilizing," Peter Daszak, PhD, president of the EcoHealth Alliance, told NYT. "The United States spent $5 billion fighting Ebola in West Africa. This costs far less."

The National Institutes of Health and the Pentagon's Defense Threat Reduction Agency will take on some of Predict's projects. USAID also plans to spend $85 million over five years to teach African and Asian researchers some of its health strategies. However, these efforts will not include some of the more specialized fieldwork Predict conducted to identify emerging diseases.

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