In partnership with several world leaders, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation has launched a coalition to prevent pandemics through the development of new vaccines.
The Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) was announced at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on January 18.
Governments from Germany, Japan, and Norway have pooled funds along with the Gates Foundation to raise a total of $490 million so far. The target is $1 billion, which CEPI says will help finance the first five years of research and development.
“Ebola and Zika showed that the world is tragically unprepared to detect local outbreaks and respond quickly enough to prevent them from becoming global pandemics,” Bill Gates said in a statement. “Without investments in research and development, we will remain unequipped when we face the next threat.”
Between 2014 and the end of 2016, when Ebola and Zika outbreaks hit their peak, cases rose into the hundreds of thousands. Roughly half of all Ebola cases in West Africa — or some 286,000 diagnoses, according to the CDC — led to death. They were concentrated primarily in Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia.
The first viruses CEPI will target are MERS-CoV, Lassa, and Nipah viruses. The coalition will seek to develop two vaccines for each virus, which emergency responders can administer in the event of an outbreak. It will also look to defend against new strains of Ebola and Zika should they crop up.
CEPI has called on other world leaders for support in raising the remaining $510 million. As the coalition gathers momentum, Gates suspects the added brainpower will also lead to faster innovation.
“CEPI is a great example of how supporting innovation and R&D can help the world to address some of its most pressing health challenges,” he said.
One of the greatest challenges public-health agencies face is recognising an outbreak of infectious disease and containing its spread.
With certain viruses that tend to be a bit milder, such as the flu virus, agencies can look at data from doctor and hospital visits to know where the virus has spread. Vaccines also work to prevent that spread from ever taking place. With deadlier viruses, ones for which there are no vaccines, the spread can lead to death long before experts know where it’s headed and who’s most at-risk.
One of CEPI’s major long-term goals is to reduce the chance a group could miss an outbreak or fail to stop a spread within a reasonable amount of time.
“For new vaccines to be game changers, they must be developed and tested before outbreaks hit and made accessible and affordable for all communities in times of health crisis,” Dr. Joanne Liu, International President of Doctors Without Borders, said in a statement. “These are the conditions that will determine CEPI’s success and ensure this new initiative saves lives.”
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