Disarming a Global Threat

June 18, 2015
A graphical illustration of a scientist looking through a microscope

A two-year-old boy name Emile touched off a medical crisis when the illness that killed him in December 2013 in southern Guinea was finally identified as Ebola in March 2014.

By then, Ebola had spread throughout the region, taking the lives of thousands.

Emile's death and what followed demonstrate the growing danger posed by emerging pandemic threats triggered by zoonotic diseases—infectious agents passed from animals to humans. And they underscore the urgent need for more effective measures for responding to and preventing the spread of these pandemics in areas where the threat is most potent.

Through its "One Health Workforce" initiative and a massive funding injection ($50 million) awarded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), the U and Tufts University are developing teams of human and animal health professionals in central and eastern Africa and Southeast Asia to handle emerging pandemics.

The "One Health" approach emphasizes collaborative response to the spread of infectious diseases where humans, animals, and the environment intersect. Its purpose is to create a national and international network of people who know how to respond to an outbreak. The approach is not a departure for the U of M, which is a recognized leader in research that cuts across boundaries.

It's also a critical approach, because over the last 50 years, 75 percent of the new diseases including HIV, MERS, Ebola, and SARS, have had their origins in wildlife coming into contact with human populations. And with population of the developing world set to explode, the University of Minnesota will play a major role in pandemic response and prevention.