The University of Minnesota is part of a multidisciplinary team that will implement a United States Agency for International Development (USAID) cooperative agreement with funding up to $185 million.
The project, called RESPOND, is one of five that will work together to pre-empt or combat the first stages of emerging zoonotic pandemics—diseases that can spread between animals and humans.
Faculty from the College of Veterinary Medicine, the School of Public Health, the School of Nursing, the Medical School, the College of Education and Human Development, and College of Food, Agricultural, and Natural Resource Sciences, will be traveling to hot spots (likely located in Southeast Asia, the Congo Basin, and the Amazon Basin) to try to prevent the next pandemic. They'll be tasked with improving the ability of countries to recognize and respond to new epidemics in areas where ecological relationships—between humans, animals, and the environment—are unstable.
DAI, a company based in Washington, D.C., will lead the RESPOND team, in partnership with the University of Minnesota and Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts—another key member of the cooperative.
Although members of the RESPOND team will be dealing with diseases that don't yet exist, examples of similar diseases they might try to prevent include SARS, Ebola, and avian influenza.
The College of Veterinary Medicine's new Ecosystem Health program, National Center for Food Protection and Defense, and Center for Animal Health and Food Safety were instrumental in obtaining funds to join RESPOND.
Over the course of the five-year project, the RESPOND team will work to improve the training and response capacity for zoonotic disease outbreak identification, investigation, analysis, and control within countries and regions; strive to improve the coordination among public and private interests involved in an outbreak; support in-country outbreak response activities; and introduce new technologies to help improve a country's response to an outbreak.
John Deen, D.V.M., Ph.D. will be the director of the project at the University of Minnesota. USAID's other four projects under the Emerging Pandemic Threats Program are PREPARE, PREDICT, IDENTIFY, and PREVENT.