The USAID PREDICT Project: Building a global early warning system for emerging zoonoses

Dr. Chris Whittier, DVM, PhD is an Associate Veterinarian and PREDICT Global Coordinator at Smithsonian’s National Zoological Park. He has a DVM from Tufts University and PhD from NC State in molecular diagnosis and epidemiology of infectious disease in wild gorillas. He worked extensively in central Africa for the Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project as a veterinarian and program manager.

Dr. Whittier took a few minutes at the beginning of his talk to reflect on his “one health journey” and the evolution of his career in veterinary medicine.  His One Health path is unique. Like his role model primatologist Jane Goodall, he worked with primates in Africa, which let to his decision to become a wild animal veterinarian. Dr. Whittier even had the opportunity to work with Jane Goodall herself on chimp and gorilla health. His experience working with parasite transmission from human to chimp and public health programming lead him to further study in parasitology and zoonotic disease transmission.  His PhD research focused on shared diseases in gorillas and chimps in the Rwandan mountains and included wildlife surveillance and public health teaching.

Dr. Chris Whittier emphasizes the importance of One Health in emerging zoonotic disease surveillance and explains the goals of the USAID PREDICT project.

The PREDICT project was initially funded after avian and swine influenza outbreaks demonstrated the increasing transmission of zoonotic pathogens from animals to humans.  In fact, 70% of emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic pathogens. Human behavior and increasing human interaction with wildlife has a significant impact on disease transmission.  For example, the trade of wildlife and exotic species in Asia has increased transmission risks between animals and humans and the emergence of novel infectious organisms.

USAID PREDICT received funding in 2009 to build “a global warning system for emerging disease that move between wildlife and people” (USAID PREDICT).

PREDICT’s goals
    •    Identify emerging and novel viral zoonotic pathogens with pandemic potential
    •    Increase capacity to monitor disease at the animal-human interface
    •    Develop the capacity to monitor zoonotic diseases through coalition building and the training of existing personnel and optimizing existing lab infrastructure in hotspot areas
    •    Improve surveillance, reporting and identification of novel diseases in order to hasten response of control of disease outbreaks.
    •    Focus its efforts in predicted global hot spot areas in South East Asia and Congo Basin

PREDICT uses Smart surveillance, probabilistic modeling, field study and surveillance, and laboratory studies focusing on disease hotspot and predict and monitor disease outbreaks.  Target animals include high priority species such as primates, bats, and rodents. Dr. Whittier readily admits that there are shortcomings to this model but sees this project as a long-term investment in global animal and human health.

Post authored by Amanda Gammon, BSN, UNC MSN (Family Nurse Practitioner) Candidate

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