Why was the PREDICT Program Suspended Last Fall?

Why was the PREDICT Program Suspended Last Fall?

A discussion from October 29, 2019:

A crucial federal program tracking dangerous diseases is shutting down. Predict, a pandemic preparedness program, thrived under Bush and Obama. Now it’s canceled … Ever since the 2005 H5N1 bird flu scare, the US Agency for International Development (USAID) has run a project to track and research these diseases, called Predict. At a cost of $207 million during its existence, the program has collected more than 100,000 samples and found nearly 1,000 novel viruses, including a new Ebola virus … But on Friday, the New York Times reported that the US government is shutting down the program. According to its former director Dennis Carroll, the program enjoyed enthusiastic support under Bush and Obama, but “things got complicated” in the last few years until the program “essentially collapsed.” … That’s a shame, and it’s indicative of a bigger problem. While pandemics make the news when they happen, efforts to understand, predict, and prevent them are underfunded. The US government has several agencies that do work on pandemic preparedness, but experts say that much more leadership in the area is needed … Predict’s mission, according to USAID, is “detection and discovery of zoonotic” — that is, animal-originating — “diseases at the wildlife-human interface.” Anywhere where wild animals live in close contact with humans, there’s potential for disease transmission. Humans can kill and eat wild animals, exposing themselves to diseases.

Another story from early February:

Shutdown of PREDICT Infectious Disease Program Challenged by Senators Warren and King … The joint letter follows-up on a November request from Senator King, who asked for information on USAID’s decision to end PREDICT. In response to Senator King’s initial letter, USAID indicated that it intends to initiate a successor project – but just two months away from the project’s March 2020 closure, no additional details regarding this replacement have been released.


A more recent discussion:

The severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) pandemic began only a few weeks after the end of PREDICT-2, the last-standing United States Agency for International Development (USAID) Emerging Pandemic Threats funding programme, which supported a decade of virology, ecology, and epidemiology around the world. Since 2009, PREDICT worked with more than 60 countries to build capacity and strengthen zoonotic pathogen surveillance, and identified at least 931 novel virus species from 145 000 samples of wildlife, livestock, and humans. The end of PREDICT leaves the closely connected Global Virome Project and a much broader coalition of multidisciplinary research in the lurch; one virologist observed to The New York Times that “PREDICT needed to go on for 20 years, not 10”. Despite a lack of immediate causation, the coincidental timing with the emergence of COVID-19 has not gone unnoticed, especially on social media; the issue even gained traction in the 2020 Democratic Party presidential primaries, with Senator Elizabeth Warren’s plan for COVID-19 response explicitly mentioning the need to restore PREDICT.

Senator Warren was right about the need to restore this program. More needs to be asked as what on earth was the White House thinking last fall?