Trump Shuttered Program Meant To Prevent The Next Viral Pandemic
The Trump administration shut down a federal program that provided surveillance of and worldwide training for infectious diseases that might move from animals to humans, according to The New York Times.
Predict, a program run by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), was launched a decade ago, sparked by the 2005 H5N1 bird flu outbreak.
At a cost of about $207 million, the prevention-focused program was far less expensive than dealing with an outbreak once it occured.
“Predict was an approach to heading off pandemics, instead of sitting there waiting for them to emerge and then mobilizing. That’s expensive,” said Peter Daszak, president of the EcoHealth Alliance, a nonprofit global health organization that received funding from the program. “The United States spent $5 billion fighting Ebola in West Africa. This costs far less.”
Predict’s function covered numerous areas, from discovering new zoonotic diseases — those that can jump from animals to humans — to developing DNA testing for unknown viruses to training individuals in poorer countries on how to approach such diseases.
“Predict teams have investigated mysterious disease outbreaks in many countries, including a die-off of 3,000 wild birds in a Mongolian lake,” The Times reported. “One team proved that endangered otters in a Cambodian zoo were killed by their feed — raw chickens infected with bird flu.”
The program also “placed medical detectives in the field, training local doctors, veterinarians, wildlife rangers and others to collect samples from wild and domestic animals.”
Dr. Christine Kreuder Johnson, associate director of the One Health Institute at the University of California said the program also “experimented with novel ways to catch and release animals unharmed, to transport samples without refrigeration and to use DNA testing that can scan for whole viral families instead of just known viruses.”
But most of this activity will now come to an end.
Irene Koek, acting assistant administrator of USAID’s global health bureau, said Predict simply ran out of its 10-year funding.
“We typically do programs in five-year cycles, and it had two,” she told The Times. Some similar research may be part of future budget requests, Koek said, “but it’s still in the design-and-procurement cycle, so exactly what will continue is a bit of a black box.”
“Predict needed to go on for 20 years, not 10,” Dr. Jonathan Epstein, an EcoHealth Alliance veterinarian, told the newspaper. “We were getting to the point of having a trained work force that could gather animal samples and labs that could test for unknown viruses, not just known ones.”
“Once it stops, it’s going to be hard to maintain that level of proficiency.”