Fighting outbreaks before they happen makes good sense.

 

The frequency of pandemics is increasing, driven by rapid demographic and environmental change and globalized trade and travel. SARS, MERS, Ebola, pandemic influenza and Zika outbreaks have shown that we are ill-prepared to mitigate the impact of a novel virus or prevent its emergence – leaving humanity vulnerable to catastrophe.

Responding to pandemics after they start costs tens of billions of dollars, not to mention the human lives lost in the process. We propose a global initiative to identify 99% of all high-consequence viruses in wildlife hosts that are most likely to carry the next pandemic so that we can characterize the ones most likely to become zoonotic.

Dennis Carroll of USAID, Jonna Mazet of the UC Davis One Health Institute and Nathan Wolfe of Metabiota discuss the Global Virome Project with moderator Larry Brilliant of the Skoll Global Threats Fund.

With many of the technologies and protocols already in place through years of work on USAID’s PREDICT Project, we estimate that it would cost $3.4 billion over 10 years to accomplish the goal. That total cost is dwarfed by the money spent on past outbreak responses like SARS ($16 billion), pandemic influenza ($570 billion per year) and others.

Researchers estimate that barely 1% of global viral threats have been identified, and even fewer have been addressed through vaccines or counter measures. The Global Virome Project would dramatically change that, and in doing so would offer a proactive approach to infectious disease that focuses on potentially deadly viruses before an outbreak occurs.