Today at the World Vaccine Congress, Dr Joseph Fair delivered a presentation on preventing epidemics.
Dr. Fair’s group is dedicated to identifying emerging pandemics before they happen. Dr. Fair says that we know that in Brazzaville Congo, in 1929, there were at least a few people walking around with HIV/AIDS. If we knew then, what could we have done to prevent the epidemic?
HIV has come about through a minimum of three independent cross-species transmission events. The HIV epidemic is not over. There are new HIV’s that are now crossing over from the animal reservoir. Why is this still happening?
All the HIV-1 viruses are traced to Camaroon because of high consumption of bush meat and keeping chimpanzees as pets. As logging moves into new forest areas, demand for more bush meat rises and is carried back to major African cities, leading to greater exposure to virus
The current “recipe” for creating new pandemics are warmer climates, high biodiversity, heavy interaction between humans, wildlife and livestock, low food production, high population density and habitat encroachment. Unfortunately, globally we still have a “fire brigade” mentality to approaching epidemics; it is a wait and respond mentality. This has led to a lack of investment in new diagnostics and laboratories, which is compounded by the fact that most of these diseases are coming from developing nations, where many epidemics/pandemics originate.
Dr. Fair believes that biosurveillance sill lacking due to turf wars between agencies and governments. The countries with the greatest disease burdens are often the poorest, and foreign aid is dependent on the political environment,. Last, aid is often not used as intended.
We need world governments to come together with academic and industry partners to view biosurveillance as a global priority. This will need to include multi-agent diagnostic development for use in both developed and austere environments. Also, laboratory capacity building must be in place.
Dr. Fair presented some information on the PREDICT program, supported by USAID, which is building a global early warning system for emerging diseases that move between wildlife and people. The program is outfitting civilians in the field, such as Masai warriors, with celphones and SMS texting so they can spot early warnings of disease and deaths in animals.
Dr. Fair closed by saying that we need to develop a global strategy to combat infectious diseases and enforce ensuing regulations. This should be done in coordination with the WHO, but implemented by member nations. There should be incentives offered to encourage partnerships between governments, academic institutions, and industry.
Check this space for the full presentation shortly. Excellent Presentation Joseph!