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pandemic preparation

Program ended by Trump administration last year helped labs detect viruses that could turn into pandemics

In September, the Trump administration ended a $200 million pandemic early-warning program called PREDICT that trained scientists in laboratories around the world on how to find and respond to viruses that could spread from wild animals to humans.

The program was launched by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) in 2009, in response to the 2005 global spread of the H5N1 bird flu. Epidemiologists and wildlife veterinarians studied interactions between animals and humans, and over the course of the project they identified 1,200 viruses that had the ability to turn into pandemics, including more than 160 novel coronaviruses. Nearly 7,000 people in 30 countries were trained through PREDICT, including employees of the Wuhan Institute of Virology in China. That lab went on to identify SARS-CoV-2, the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19.

Jonna Mazet, PREDICT's former global director, told the Los Angeles Times it was clear from the research that "coronaviruses were jumping easily across species lines and were ones to watch for epidemics and pandemics." As the COVID-19 pandemic began to grow, scientists in Rwanda who were trained by PREDICT immediately called for social distancing in the country, and Mazet said "what we were doing has changed the outcomes for a lot of countries, but unfortunately not our own."

PREDICT was funded twice, each time for five years, and although it ended in September, USAID on Wednesday granted an emergency extension to the program; experts will spend the next six months assisting foreign labs working to combat COVID-19. USAID is set to unveil a new initiative in August to stop viruses from moving from animals to humans, a spokesman told the Times, adding that PREDICT was "just one component of USAID's global health security efforts and accounted for less than 20 percent of our global health security funding." Read more about PREDICT's efforts at the Los Angeles Times.