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Partnering to solve our next big challenge

Zika is the latest virus to capture the world’s attention. Though Zika has been around since the 1940s, we really don’t know much about it. It may be connected to microcephaly and Guillaine-Barre. There is no medication or drug for treatment.

Fear often drives funding. Now there are proposals in Congress to take some of the funding for Ebola and other infectious diseases and instead use that money for Zika. Though the President has rejected that approach so far for Zika, it’s a time-honored solution.

It’s like a game of whack-a-mole. But, as a scientist friend reminds me, “nature always wins.”

Emergencies like Ebola and Zika force our hand. Governments release funding, scientists cross disciplines and share information in real time and drug companies devote their resources during these crises. That sense of urgency –connecting the right experts at the right time with the right resources can save years of time and untold lives.

The emerging threat of antimicrobial resistance

Nature is winning big time in a way that will impact all of us in some form or fashion, no matter where we live, in the coming years.

Last November, I moderated a Life Science Washington panel about Antimicrobial Resistance (AMR). After the discussion with panelists from Virginia Mason, Seattle Children‘s and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, I told my staff that of all the disease discussions we’ve been involved in, this topic scared me the most.

All of the gains made in treating diseases in the last century are at risk

“The problem of drug-resistant infections could be compared to a slow-motion car crash – one that has sadly already begun. 700,000 people are already dying every year from resistant infections, rising to 10 million a year by 2050 without action to hit the brakes now.” Lord Jim O’Neill, Chair of the U.K. Review on Antimicrobial Resistance sounded this alarm in July 2014.

According to the World Health Organization, “Antimicrobial resistance threatens the effective prevention and treatment of an ever-increasing range of infections caused by bacteria, parasites, viruses and fungi.”

In other words, the drugs we’ve developed to treat bacterial, viral and parasitic infections could become ineffective in the near-term. This impacts the treatment of HIV, malaria, tuberculosis and many more diseases. All of the gains we’ve made in treating disease over the past century are at risk.

Assembling to efficiently and effectively respond

At the turn of the New Year I received a call from Dr. Guy Palmer, Washington State University‘s Senior Director of Global Health. WSU, known for its work in global animal health, has been studying antibiotic resistance in East Africa.

Dr. Palmer asked WGHA to convene a meeting of other relevant antimicrobial experts and stakeholders to explore how to best address AMR together. Because WGHA makes it our business to know the global health community players, in less than two weeks we had an exceptional group convened for a two hour examination of the region’s assets and potential for combining expertise to tackle this huge challenge.

Experts gather to explore combining efforts

At the table were scientists and leaders ranging from Fred Hutch and Harborview to Madigan Army Medical Center and the Infectious Disease Research Institute, the University of Washington, Geneva Foundation, Washington State Department of Health, the Gates Foundation, PATH and the Center for Infectious Disease Research.

I listened as they talked about problems with tracking resistance, the need for quick diagnostic tools and the realization that we are already facing this terrifying prospect at our hospitals in Seattle. Two hours later it was clear Dr. Palmer’s idea of connecting with others in the antimicrobial space could yield great benefit on multiple fronts.

The coalition is developing its objectives and priorities and we will keep you up to date. Many of these people had not met before, and at the very least, there will be exciting new partnerships. I believe that conversations like this have the potential to limit the spread of disease by leveraging existing and new resources. And WGHA will continue to create the space for experts and stakeholders from various backgrounds to connect so together we can advance global health equity.

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