Around 75% of new diseases affecting humans over the last decade were caused by pathogens carried by animals. Some of those zoonotic diseases are well-known since they led to major global health crises from Ebola to COVID19. According to the Global Virome Project, there are over 1.6 million unknown viral species in animals, of which approximately 700,000 have the potential to infect and cause diseases in humans. In an attempt to prevent the next global pandemic, the international scientific community has identified several 'hotspots' where humans and animals coexist to monitor potential outbreaks of emerging zoonoses across the world.
The Bwindi Impenetrable National Park in Uganda is one of these hotspots, chosen by the US National Health Institute (NHI). Bwindi is an important international touristic destination which is experiencing a growing demographic pressure, and strong economic development in its surroundings. Moreover, local communities struggle with a weak healthcare system. All this, together with some cultural and traditional practices potentially dangerous makes Bwindi an outbreak 'time bomb'. Local veterinarians and epidemiologists work hard to monitor wildlife health to identify potential new pathogens that could infect humans, with the support of international partners.
This story portrays the work in the frontline of zoonotic disease surveillance, in the context of weak and under-supported healthcare systems in Africa, and how this could jeopardise the goal of protecting the global population from the next pandemic.