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Strengthening International Collaboration to Combat the Next Global Health Threat

The Nipah Virus International Conference 2019 co-hosted by Duke-NUS Medical School (Duke-NUS) and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) was held in Singapore from 9 to 10 December 2019.

The conference brought together Nipah Virus (NiV) experts and other stakeholders such as researchers and public health organizations to stimulate dialogue in the development of effective public health strategies, diagnostics, and vaccines in countering NiV. The conference guests include leaders and representatives from the Ministry of Health (Singapore), the World Health Organisation (WHO), Ministry of Health (Malaysia), the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), Ministry of Social and Family Development (Singapore), Duke-NUS, CEPI, SingHealth and other key stakeholders from the healthcare and biomedical ecosystem in Singapore.

First few cases of NiV was found in late September 1998, in villages near the city of Ipoh in the state of Perak, West Malaysia. The virus then spread to Singapore in 1999 causing a large outbreak. The virus causes encephalitis, with recorded mortality rates in Malaysia, Bangladesh and India of between 40 and 90 percent. In 2001, the virus was detected in Bangladesh and since then, frequent outbreaks have occurred in the country. An outbreak in Kerala, India, in 2018 claimed 17 lives. NiV is a zoonotic virus and its main disease reservoir are Pteropus fruit bats. The alarmingly high mortality rate of the disease thus calls for an urgency in scientific and public health communities within the region to collaborate and prevent the emergence of a global pandemic.

“There are currently no specific drugs or vaccines for Nipah virus infection, even though the WHO has identified Nipah as a priority disease for the WHO Research and Development Blueprint. Through the conference, we aim to stimulate dialogue between experts and stakeholders to bring about innovative and effective solutions to boost efforts in fighting Nipah virus,” said Professor Wang Linfa, Director of Duke-NUS’ Emerging Infectious Diseases Programme and Co-Chairman of the conference’s organising committee.

“Outbreaks of Nipah virus have so far been confined to South and Southeast Asia, but the virus has serious epidemic potential, because Pteropus fruit bats that carry the virus are found throughout the tropics and sub-tropics, which are home to more than two billion people. Nipah virus can also be transmitted from person to person, so in theory it could spread into densely populated temperate areas too,” said Richard Hatchett, CEO of CEPI.

“Twenty years have passed since its discovery, but the world is still not adequately equipped to tackle the global health threat posed by Nipah virus. This needs to change. Strengthening collaboration and knowledge sharing between Nipah virus experts, industry and key public-health stakeholders is crucial to the development of novel interventions against Nipah. As a co-host of the Nipah Virus International Conference 2019, CEPI is pleased to be able to foster such global collaboration,” he added.

The WHO and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, one of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, are also key sponsors of this conference. [APBN]