predictUSAID Emerging Pandemic Threats PREDICT Project

Gorilla Doctors serves as the Uganda and Rwanda country leaders for a 5-year grant awarded to the UC Davis Karen C. Drayer Wildlife Health Center (WHC) by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) Emerging Pandemic Threats (EPT) program. The EPT is aimed at detecting and combating new zoonotic diseases in wildlife that could spark future human pandemics. The WHC is implementing the EPT’s PREDICT project, which is conducting intensive surveillance for newly emerging diseases in wildlife like primates, bats and rodents at high-risk human-wildlife interfaces that could pose a major threat to human health.

Gorilla Doctors began working on the PREDICT program in 2009, with fieldwork starting in 2010. Our PREDICT staff have collected thousands of samples from wildlife living in and around Rwanda and Uganda’s national parks. Through partnerships with the Ugandan and Rwandan governments and Makerere University in Uganda and the Rwanda Agricultural Board, Gorilla Doctors has helped improve the capacity to store, process, and test wildlife samples in in-country laboratories.

Dr. Julius Nziza manages the PREDICT program in Rwanda and is supported by Field Veterinarian Dr. Olivier Nsengimana. Recently the team has collected biological samples from rodents and chimps in Nyungwe National Park, bats living in people’s homes near Akagera National Park, and bats living in caves near Volcanoes National Park. The samples are being processed in RAB’s new wildlife virology laboratory in Kigali.

In Uganda, PREDICT Research Project Coordinator Dr. Benard Ssebide and Field Veterinarian Dr. Rachael Mababazi work closely with the Uganda Wildlife Authority and Makerere University. They have collected hundreds of samples from rodents, primates, bats, hippos, birds, and bush pigs to be analyzed at the Makerere University Walter Reed Project Influenza Research Laboratory (MUWRP).

Also in Uganda, PREDICT, the Uganda Wildlife Authority, and the Smithsonian Institution are pilot testing a cellphone-based animal mortality monitoring and reporting project in Queen Elizabeth Conservation Area as an early warning system for detecting potential epidemics.

Both PREDICT teams carefully monitor the outbreak of highly infectious diseases such as Ebola and yellow fever in human populations. PREDICT staff have traveled to outbreak sites to collect samples from domestic and wild animals in order to determine if the outbreak is related to any pathogens that might be circulating in wild animal populations.