April 28, 2020

Sens. Warren and King Seek Strong Funding for Pandemic Threat Detection Programs Under USAID

Senators Urge Appropriators to Boost Funding for Programs to Combat Pandemics and Strengthen Global Health Security

Text of the Letter (PDF)

Washington, D.C. - United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Angus King (I-Maine) sent a letter to Senate appropriators urging them to include robust funding in the fiscal year 2021 appropriations bill for programs within the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to strengthen global health security, particularly with respect to emerging zoonotic epidemic threats.

"The global public health crisis caused by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic is a reminder of the need to ensure that our government agencies responsible for addressing and preventing disease outbreaks have adequate resources," the senators wrote in their letter to Chairman Lindsey Graham and Ranking Member Patrick Leahy of the Department of State, Foreign Operations, and Related Programs Appropriations Subcommittee.

Congress has a long record of bipartisan support for USAID and other federal agencies that strengthen America's role in identifying and researching zoonotic diseases and implementing other initiatives to promote this aspect of global health security. For example, USAID's PREDICT Program--established in 2009--strengthened the international community's capability to detect and discover zoonotic viruses with pandemic potential, trained epidemiologists and other health officials, facilitated international data sharing, and conducted zoonotic diseases research.

As COVID-19 challenges public health systems and threatens lives and livelihoods around the world, it is more essential than ever that the research and other missions performed by USAID Emerging Pandemic Threats programs continue unabated to prevent, mitigate, and reduce the spread of future zoonotic viruses.

"By funding these programs, Congress strengthens public health system capacity in countries where there is a high risk of emerging or zoonotic disease," the senators continued. "We encourage the Subcommittee to pay particular attention in its appropriations process to supporting the collection and analysis of data on unknown viruses and other pathogens, as well as a mechanism for the countries to efficiently share that pandemic threat data."

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. Despite this track record, the program was brought to a close late last year.  In November - before the emergence of coronavirus - Senator King questioned USAID's decision to shutter the program. Senators King and Warren followed up on this request in January, after the first coronavirus case was confirmed in the United States. Though USAID, after the Senators' questioning, decided to extend PREIDCT's funding through September 2020, it is unclear how the agency will fund Global Health Security efforts moving forward.