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If Epidemiologists Were King...

By Jim Duffy

"Disease is a perfect phenomenon for attempting to forecast. The potential benefits are absolutely incredible," says epidemiologist Nathan Wolfe. "I know it's a tough thing, but we need to find a way to take some fraction of the public health research dollars spent on infectious diseases and point it this way to see if we can develop a successful system."

What would mark a worthy start toward a future in which disease forecasting plays a significant role in public health? Don Burke, professor of International Health, looks for three basic initiatives that he guesstimates would carry a combined price tag upward of $1 billion.

  • Establish, in cooperation with host nations, at least five fixed research and surveillance laboratories near disease hotspots around the world, staffed by 20 researchers each.
  • Create a joint federal institute charged with developing forecasting strategies focused on zoonotic disease. It should include representation from the Department of the Interior, the Department of Agriculture, the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Geological Survey and possibly the Department of Homeland Security.
  • Invest in academic investigators exploring disease forecasting research and predictive computational modeling by establishing forecasting as a clearly identified and prioritized class of NIH grants.
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