Tufts is leading a five-year, $100 million project calledStrategies to Prevent Spillover (STOP Spillover), working alongside the U.S. Agency for International Development. The program, which was announced on Sept. 30, works to understand and address the risks posed by zoonotic diseases, which are transmissible from animals to humans, that can spill over and cause epidemics.
“We are excited to work with Tufts University and the rest of the wildlife and human-disease experts that make up the STOP Spillover consortium, including from local and U.S.-based university networks, academic institutions, and new and traditional implementing partners,” a USAID spokesperson wrote in an email to the Daily.
Over the next five years, STOP Spillover will work with at least 10 high-risk countries in Africa and Asia to strengthen their capacities to understand, assess and monitor risks associated with the spillover of zoonotic diseases.
Program director of STOP Spillover Deborah Kochevar explained that the project will achieve its goals through partnerships with local communities, institutions and colleagues.
“Government engagement and partnerships are key to achieving STOP Spillover objectives and sustainable reduction of country and community risk,” Kochevar wrote in an email to the Daily.
Kochevar outlined what has been accomplished since STOP Spillover's launch in October 2020.
"The priority activity during this start-up period has been development of a detailed project workplan based on the proposal that won ~$100M funding over 5 years from the US Agency for International Development (USAID)," Kochevar said.
She explained how they have interacted thus far with the countries they are working with.
"We have begun to introduce STOP Spillover to important stakeholders around the globe, including in Uganda, Liberia, Vietnam and Bangladesh. Additional countries in Africa and Southeast Asia will follow by [the] end of year 1," Kochevar said.
However, the project has faced various difficulties caused by the pandemic.
“STOP Spillover’s work is aimed directly at reducing the risk of just such another pandemic happening, and yet much of our work requires international travel, which we are unable to do at present,” Felicia Nutter, an assistant professor in the department of infectious disease and global health at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, wrote in an email to the Daily.
However, they are still on track.
"Despite the challenges of the current pandemic, the project remains on schedule. STOP Spillover is expected to be operational in the first quarter of calendar year 2021," a USAID spokesperson said.
The team is currently working on Zoom and other virtual platforms. Although not an ideal situation, Nutter expressed that she is still excited to work on this project.
"I think one of our major accomplishments was assembling the amazing team of dedicated experts and organizations that was chosen to do this work, with Tufts as the lead," Nutter said. "I’m excited to be working with colleagues who are world-leaders in their fields, and with whom I’ve wanted to work for a long time."
Nutter is a senior technical lead for the Wildlife, Livestock, Epidemiology, Behavior Change and Gender Strategy Hub.
"As a co-leader of that group, my responsibility is to ensure that we bring the best technical expertise to the development of global project strategy, and that our activities are implemented with the best technical support," Nutter wrote.
Nutter expanded on the progress of the plan mentioned by Kochevar.
"Our global workplan, covering the work we will do in all countries, has been submitted and we are now developing more detailed workplans for the specific countries, which will also be reviewed and approved," Nutter said. "Once that is done, we can move on to organizing project teams in each country, and start the real work, which includes lots of initial meetings with the government agencies, other collaborators, and the communities in which we’ll do our work."
USAID is equally excited about the project's progress and what will come next.
"STOP Spillover will play an integral role in expanding on USAID’s 15 years of investments in capacity building, research, knowledge, data, and tools to promote a multisectoral “One Health approach” (which refers to the inescapable link between the health of humans, animals, and the environment) to address emerging and re-emerging zoonotic viruses before they pose an overwhelming epidemic or pandemic threat," a USAID spokesperson said.