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Global health: epidemics require cross-border solutions

350 scientists from diverse disciplines converge at the 10th German National Symposium on Zoonoses Research

18 October 2018. Epidemics are an international issue: from the Ebola, West Nile and Zika viruses to multidrug-resistant bacteria, pathogens do not recognise geopolitical borders. Against this background, approximately 350 professionals from human and veterinary medicine, epidemiologists, data scientists and basic researchers met in Berlin at the 10th German National Symposium for Zoonoses Research. The event, which took place from 17 to 19 October, provided an opportunity to discuss and debate how to best research, monitor and contain these diseases. As Professor Christian Drosten of Charité University Hospital, Berlin, stated at the symposium’s opening: “Global health is a major issue in research and politics, and the international health risks posed by pandemics are heightened in the age of globalisation.”

Zoonoses are infectious diseases caused by viruses, bacteria, parasites or prions that can be transmitted from animals to humans, and vice versa. They are a substantial health threat – and systematic interdisciplinary research and global collaboration are vital to combatting them.

German national government bolsters zoonoses research

In his welcoming address to the ministries providing funding, Michael Engels of the German Federal Ministry of Defence (BMVg) emphasised: “Strengthening zoonoses research remains a focus of the German federal government, which underscores how very relevant this research is.” This year, for the first time, the German Research Platform for Zoonoses organised the symposium in cooperation with the Research Network of Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, founded in 2017. Both entities are funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF). Further support is provided by the Federal Ministry of Health (BMG) and the Ministry of Food and Agriculture (BMEL).

Climate change, globalisation and human behaviour pose risks

In her keynote speech, entitled Zoonotic risk and unmet needs in the One Health Era, Dr Alexandra Mailles of Santé publique France, the French national public health agency, highlighted: “Many risks associated with the spread of zoonotic infectious diseases come down to human behaviour.” It is therefore critical to understand the relationships between human behaviour, animal habitats, disease vectors and the environment. Global risk factors for transmission include, for example, close contact with agricultural animals, the destruction of wildlife habitat, and the growing number of interactions between humans and wild animals, e.g. when wildlife are kept as pets.

 

   
   
Furthermore, climate change plays a role in the increase of disease vectors such as mosquitos and ticks. As Dr Mailles pointed out, to stem the spread of zoonotic infections, risks need to be communicated effectively, and human populations better educated on the transmission of diseases between animals and people. In addition, Dr Mailles called for stronger interdisciplinary cooperation between doctors, veterinarians, environmental scientists and political decision-makers.

Harnessing technology to hinder zoonoses

In recent years there have been worldwide efforts to use genomic epidemiology to research epidemics caused by zoonotic diseases. Professor Rene S. Hendriksen, Technical University of Denmark, explained how next-generation sequencing (NGS), big data and artificial intelligence can be harnessed for international analysis of epidemics: “We are optimistic that, in the future, we will be able to leverage real-time data to better analyse and describe global epidemic events – and to better prevent and combat them.” However, as Professor Hendriksen observed, the degree of data sharing this requires will remain a technological, legal and cultural challenge.

Contact

Sophie Haderer, Wiebke Lesch | presse@tmf-ev.de | Tel.: 030 – 2200247-30 



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