The world has made significant strides in tackling major public health challenges over the last several decades. We have eradicated one disease, smallpox, and are close to doing so with polio and guinea worm. We continue to make significant progress on other debilitating illnesses, including malaria, tuberculosis and HIV/AIDS. Yet, even as our technology and practices improve, new threats arise. In the last two decades, we have seen some 30 new zoonotic diseases emerge, from SARS to hantavirus to Ebola and more. Population pressures and economic growth push humans into ever closer contact with animals, disturbing ecosystems, and creating ripe conditions for new pathogens to jump from animals to humans. Add to this the incredible growth in global travel and trade and the risk of new diseases quickly spreading worldwide has never been greater. So while our ability to respond continually improves, the challenges we face increase as well.
Many factors make up the successful fight against emerging infectious diseases. But one factor trumps all* early detection and rapid identification of novel infections. If we can find a new pathogen early, we can often isolate it to the area in which it emerges. Conversely, failure to find the disease early allows the pathogen to propagate to new regions, countries and continents, making the response much more difficult and costly. Imagine if we had found HIV/AIDS when it was still contained to its region of origin*many of today’s 35 million people infected worldwide would have never been exposed. Our tools of detection, including point-of-care diagnostics and digital surveillance, continue to improve. However, the global infectious disease surveillance system is disjointed. Practices and protocols vary, and inefficiencies abound. The initiative we are jointly supporting*Connecting Organizations for Regional Disease Surveillance (CORDS)*tackles this challenge by building trust and collaboration across national borders.
CORDS unites regional disease surveillance networks from critical hotspots around the world to promote exchanges of best practices in surveillance and catalyze innovation in early disease detection. By working together with international bodies, including the World Health Organization (WHO), World Organization for Animal Health (IOE), and the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), CORDS will speed the development, capabilities and sustainability of all its network members to improve global surveillance and mitigate the potential impact of disease outbreaks both from epidemic diseases and from the recrudescence of endemic diseases.
Each of our organizations comes to this issue with equal commitment but different perspectives ranging from global health to disaster management to biosecurity and more. We are all united in our dedication to this effort, which fills a critical gap in global public health capacity. We look forward to CORDS contributing to improve health outcomes worldwide.