January 31, 2020

Senators Warren, King Question USAID on Decision to Shutter Global Infectious Disease Prevention Program

From 2009 to 2019, PREDICT identified nearly 1,000 new viruses, including a new strand of Ebola; trained roughly 5,000 people; and improved or developed 60 research laboratories; Lawmakers' request for more information comes as a novel coronavirus has reached the U.S.

Washington, D.C. -- United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions (HELP) Committee, and Senator Angus King (I-Maine) 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 pandemics, including the recent coronavirus. These diseases pose a threat to the public health and safety in the U.S. and abroad.

"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," wrote the lawmakers. "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. In response to a November letter from Senator King requesting information on the project's end, USAID indicated that it intends to initiate a successor project -- but just two months away from the March 2020 closure of PREDICT, no additional details regarding this replacement have been released.

"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 wrote. "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."
The senators have requested responses to their questions no later than February 13, 2020.

As a member of the HELP Committee, Senator Warren believes in promoting the country's public health and safety.
  • Senator Warren recently joined her colleagues in pressing the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, requesting updates on the Administration's response to the novel coronavirus outbreak and information on the steps being taken to keep families safe.
  • Earlier this month, Senators Warren and Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.) requested an update from the CDC on the agency's efforts to study the epidemiology of Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) and prepare for the upcoming mosquito season. Their letter follows a record number of EEE cases reported nationwide in 2019, with 12 confirmed cases in Massachusetts and 3 deaths.
  • In March 2019, Senator Warren discussed the importance the importance of vaccines to preventing and controlling disease outbreaks.