Somewhere in the world, an unknown virus is growing in the bloodstream of an animal, just waiting to jump to the human population.
Since the 1980s, outbreaks of infectious diseases have more than tripled worldwide. For example, one million people die each year from mosquito-borne illness. And with rising temperatures and population growth, the death toll will likely grow. To stay ahead of a potentially devastating global pandemic, scientists have come up with new ways to research and learn about diseases.
Ron Fouchier, a physician who studies genetic mutations at the Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands, genetically modified the H5N1 bird flu virus to become airborne. “So now we can find out exactly what it takes for an animal virus to become airborne,” he told VICE News.
Fouchier’s work originally sent shockwaves through the international community, but global health experts have found that diligent surveillance and research of these diseases is the key to keeping them at bay.
“Human beings are only as strong as our weakest surveillance system,” Larry Brilliant, a physician who helped eradicate smallpox, told VICE News. As Chairman of the Skoll Global Threat Fund, his work now focuses on using mobile data to track outbreaks. “This is one instance where ‘America First’ means working with the poorest countries in the world to protect them out of selfishness, our own enlightened self-interest.”
Uganda, where the Zika virus was first discovered in 1947, already uses a decentralized network of hospitals, laboratories, and motorcycle riders to keep scientists up to date on medical anomalies, which allows them to quickly contain emerging threats.
VICE founder Suroosh Alvi went to the Zika Forest and Kampala, Uganda, to see how vulnerable humans are to a new pandemic and the options for staving one off.
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