Inside the pandemics predict project

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Most deadly diseases like Ebola or Lassa find their origin in Africa. The project planed to accompany researchers supported by the Robert Koch Institut who are looking for new pandemic threats to be able to predict future outbreaks.

  • €14,660 Budget in Euros
  • 2019 Final release date
  • 5 Round winner
  • 1 Location

Ebola, Avian Influenza, Influenza H1N1 and SARS are not only notorious for their human, ecological and economic impact. These four diseases also share one common trait: All of them are related to animals – and they are not the only ones. Diseases that can be transmitted between animals and humans – so called zoonotic diseases – constitute the majority of the emerging diseases that currently effect people. In the times of expansive trade and travel, these diseases travel quickly to neighbor countries and all over the world, challenging the global public health, development and security.

Global efforts to reduce the impact of emerging diseases are largely focused on post-emergence outbreak control, quarantine and drug development. However, delays in detection or response to new pathogens have caused extensive morality across cultural, political and national boundaries followed by high economic damages.

To identify and respond to new zoonotic diseases, the German veterinarian Fabian Leendertz, a leading virologist and expert in wildlife epidemiology from the Robert-Koch-Institute established a dozen research labs in the hotspots of the diseases in sub-Saharan Africa, in order to investigate mass infection and extinction in different species. Every day, his team made up of local and German experts and Ph.D. students treat, vaccine and monitor the health of animals likely to carry zoonotic diseases – nonhuman primates, bats, and rodents – as well as their own health and the one of people living in the remote villages around the lab.

The researchers collect swabs, feces or small amounts of blood, analyze the samples in the lab and look for evidence of disease that could become a threat for human beings. In cataloging the findings, they are able to create maps that predict potential outbreaks. They are not only identifying new potential risks for the global health system but also help communities to prepare to the threat of an outbreak and respond to it.

In doing so, the team of Leendertz was able to locate the Lassa virus in Ivory Coast. They specified the Ebola virus that killed almost 2000 people in Congo DRC and discovered pathogen-carrying flies that track wild monkeys. Leendertz was the one who tracked back the origin of Ebola in Western Africa in 2014. Currently his team focusses on the remote Dzanga-Sangha national park in the south of the Central African Republic, surrounded by two states where more than half of the population lives in poverty without healthcare provision, plagued by civil wars and conflicts: the Republic of Congo and Cameroon. German and central African Ph.D. students are studying closely a population of wild monkeys who got used to the presence of humans.

The project wanted to accompany the researchers as the first journalist/photograph to join the international team for four weeks, in a blind spot of the global health system where an outbreak might hit the population particularly hard. However, the research trip of Leendertz and his team had to be cancelled due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

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