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Dr. Mazet goes to Washington

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Dr. Jonna Mazet visited Washington D. C. in February to brief the White House on PREDICT’s actions and success to date.

Dr. Jonna Mazet recently traveled to the nation’s capital to lead a White House briefing on PREDICT—a project of USAID’s Emerging Pandemic Threats Program led by the school’s One Health Institute (OHI).  

PREDICT builds on the understanding that humans, wildlife and the environment are inextricably linked. More than half of the roughly 400 emerging infectious diseases that have been identified since 1940 are zoonotic, which means they move between animals and people. Most pandemics, such as HIV/AIDS, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) or pandemic influenza, originate in animals and emerge where humans and animals interact. The project aims to prevent, detect, and rapidly respond to novel infectious pathogens that can spread from wildlife to humans. 

The PREDICT executive board, directed by Mazet, and USAID representatives were invited to provide an update on progress through year three of the five year effort to members of the Office of Science and Technology and the National Security Council, including the following: 

Discovering new pathogens of pandemic potential and prioritizing action

Refining modeling to better target surveillance and response

Implementing strategic and adaptive surveillance

Improving novel viral discovery through laboratory and outbreak response capacity development

Employing cutting-edge information management and communication tools to advance a more integrated, global approach to emerging zoonotic diseases 

The briefing concluded with a discussion of future improvements needed for the protection of global health as well as a Q&A with panel members. 

“PREDICT doesn’t have any reporting requirements to the White House, but they’re aware of our work and interested in what’s happening with the project,” said Mazet, executive director of the OHI. “Veterinarians are involved in leading the charge in determining how diseases are emerging, halting epidemics that could become pandemics, and identifying existing and emerging pathogens that should be further assessed for risks to animals and people. It’s really gratifying to know the profession is represented and working at the highest level of global policy.” 

In a report last June, the World Bank estimated that $80 billion was spent on managing zoonotic epidemics between 1997 and 2009. Had one of those epidemics expanded into a true pandemic, the cost to the global community could have soared to $3 trillion. The report stated that approximately $6.7 billion of that could be saved if these diseases were better understood and managed. In addition to addressing the science and efficiency of emerging zoonotic diseases, PREDICT is developing methods now that could bring down the current costs of surveillance and diagnostics by an even greater 40 to 90 percent, Mazet said.  

“We’re contributing to global health policy through the excellent work done here at the veterinary school,” said Mazet, executive director of the OHI. “Our hope is to make a difference in our country and in the world, always with a conservation ethic.” 

Other partners under the PREDICT project include EcoHealth Alliance, Metabiota Inc., Smithsonian Institution and Wildlife Conservation Society. Mazet and other PREDICT members provided their first White House briefing in October 2010 and visited again in December 2012. 

PREDICT brings together experts in veterinary medicine, epidemiology, wildlife ecology, virology, genetics and other specialties to create a global early warning system for emerging diseases that move between wildlife and people. The program is active in 20 countries that are emerging infectious disease hot spots and uses a combination of risk modeling, computerized data collection and wildlife field sampling to identify the wildlife hosts, human-animal interfaces, and landscapes most likely to spur the next pandemic.

"PREDICT's work is integral to the School of Veterinary Medicine's mission to advance the health of animals, people and the environment," said Michael Lairmore, dean of the school. "This approach is the future of global public health and could help prevent pandemics at the source before they spread to human beings."