February 04, 2020
WASHINGTON, D.C. – United States Senators Angus King (I-Maine) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) sent a letter to the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) requesting information regarding the agency's recent decision to shutter PREDICT, a program established to identify and combat viruses that may generate global public health emergencies, such as the recent coronavirus. 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.
"Addressing and preventing the spread of coronavirus and potential pandemic disease outbreaks is a serious matter that requires adequate resources for and cooperation between experts throughout the federal government," the lawmakers wrote in part. "That is why we write today to request information about the U.S. Agency for International Development's (USAID) recent decision to shutter PREDICT, a program established to identify and combat viruses with the capacity to generate global pandemics."
The USAID PREDICT program – launched in 2009 after the 2005 H5N1 bird flu sparked global fears of an epidemic – was designed to help identify and combat emerging pandemic threats like coronavirus. From 2009 to 2019, the PREDICT program identified nearly 1,000 new viruses, including a new strain of Ebola; trained roughly 5,000 people around the world to identify new diseases; and improved or developed 60 research laboratories. Despite its success, and just months before the emergence of 2019-nCoV, USAID announced that it would cease funding the PREDICT program. USAID has indicated that it intends to initiate a successor to PREDICT, but with no new details, Senators King and Warren are concerned that critical momentum will be lost.
"The rise of 2019-nCoV heightens the need for a robust, coordinated, and proactive response to emerging pandemics – one of the roles that PREDICT played," the senators continued. "We are concerned that, as the 2019-NCoV [']Wuhan coronavirus['] threatens public health in the U.S. and abroad, programs like PREDICT are winding down rather than ramping up."
Last week, Senator King joined 30 of his Senate colleagues in sending a letter to Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Alex Azar requesting updates on the Administration’s response to the novel coronavirus outbreak and information on the steps being taken to keep families safe
The senators’ full letter can be read HERE.