I read an interesting article recently about a new initiative of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to partner with world leaders to tackle the next big viral epidemic.
Bill Gates has said that “the world was tragically unprepared” to detect outbreaks of Ebola and Zika “quickly enough to prevent them from becoming global pandemics.” Fortunately, much work has been accomplished recently regarding the control of these two nasty viruses.
A final trial of an Ebola vaccine has been rated as “highly protective” against the lethal virus in a major study in Guinea. Regarding the Zika virus, an experimental Zika vaccine using inactivated Zika has shown to be very effective in recent animal testing.
However, there are many other malicious—and even lethal—viruses around the world that are now on the medical community’s radar, viruses that potentially could evolve into the next big pandemic. Mr. Gates said, “Without investments in research and development, we will remain unequipped when we face the next threat.”
Dr. Joanne Liu, the international president of Doctors Without Borders commented, “For new vaccines to be a game changer, they must be developed and tested before outbreaks hit and made accessible and affordable for all communities in times of health crisis.”
With funding help from Germany, Japan and Norway, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation developed the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) and has raised over $490 million of their $1 billion goal to target the following three menacing 21st Century viruses:
MERS-CoV: The Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome is a viral respiratory disease recently recognized in humans when it was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012. Since that time, it has spread to many other countries, including the United States. Symptoms include acute respiratory distress, fever, severe coughing and shortness of breath. The disease can be fatal.
Lassa (Fever): This acute viral hemorrhagic illness was first identified in 1969, but it has become more prevalent in West Africa in the 21st Century. The disease is spread by contact with infected food or contaminated household items. This disease can present as a mild virus, with 80% of those infected exhibiting little or no symptoms. In severe cases, however, the fatality rate is 15% as it viciously attacks the liver, kidneys and spleen.
Nipah: This viral disease was initially identified in 1999 during an encephalitis and respiratory illness outbreak among pig farmers in Malaysia and Singapore. The disease was contracted from infected pigs and bats, but it can be transmitted person-to-person. There were approximately three hundred human cases that resulted in one hundred deaths. Over one million pigs were destroyed before the disease was controlled. Symptoms of Nipah present as fever and a headache at first; but, it progresses to drowsiness, disorientation and mental confusion for up to two weeks thereafter. Severe cases advance to a coma and carry a 30-40% mortality rate. Those who survive may even exhibit long-term symptoms that present as intermittent convulsions and permanent personality changes.
Viral diseases that have killed millions of people in the past have been eradicated thanks to the research, development and deployment of vaccines to prevent the spread of diseases shown in the chart to the left. (Information Chart via CDC. Image by Leon Farrant.)
The hope is that this CEPI initiative will add some new viruses to the long list of diseases that are no longer lethal threats.
Thoughts? Comments? I’d love to hear them!