The best care
Our team knows the devastating effects of a viral outbreak too well. We have experienced firsthand the impact on our communities: the panic-stricken citizens, the devastated healthcare systems, and the climbing death tolls.
We were at the forefront when a single sick child in Guinea triggered the 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa — a chain reaction that led to 11,000 deaths, $50 billion in economic costs, and a mutated virus that infected humans even more easily. Our team at Africa Centre of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases (ACEGID) diagnosed the first Ebola case to emerge in Sierra Leone. That patient survived, but hundreds of others were already infected in neighboring countries and soon, Ebola hit Sierra Leone like a tidal wave. Thousands of people, including our friends and colleagues, perished in its wake – deaths that could have been prevented if only that first case in Guinea had been diagnosed.
That outbreak was not an anomaly. Currently, we have no systematic way of detecting and tracking outbreaks of many common and fatal infectious diseases, much less preventing them and saving lives. The necessary diagnostic tests either do not exist or are not available where the need is greatest — in the communities of lower-income countries. As a result, millions of infectious disease cases remain unidentified and uncontained, and outbreaks are only detected once so many people have become ill that the problem cannot be ignored – typically much too late to stop an epidemic.
To address this challenge, we aim to build and deploy Sentinel: a pandemic preemption system that detects viral threats in real time and by way of checkups in every rural clinic, allowing us to stop infectious diseases before they spread. We are on the cusp of a new era: ultra-sensitive genomic technologies have the unprecedented ability to detect virtually any pathogen, including those circulating under the radar, and can be leveraged to create simple, point-of-care diagnostics to be deployed anywhere. In parallel, powerful new information systems allow us to continuously collect, integrate, and share viral surveillance data. By unifying these tools into a coherent system, for the first time ever, we can detect and prevent pandemics on the ground before they start. We aim to:
Detect infections with genomics-based tests that can identify high priority viruses within an hour, any known human virus within a day, and previously unknown viruses within a week,
Connect frontline healthcare workers, hospitals, laboratories, and public health institutions to ensure efficient coordination, robust data sharing, and real-time analytics for rapid response, and
Empower the entire public health community – from frontline workers to national authorities – to deploy Sentinel anywhere in the world.
With support from the Audacious Project, we will first advance the genomics-based diagnostic technology and analytics, and then pilot their deployment in Nigeria. With a fully functioning system in place, we will then expand throughout Nigeria and into Sierra Leone, Liberia, Senegal, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). We know we cannot address a problem of this scale alone. From the outset, we will build upon our work with many partners — including governments, public health agencies, NGOs, academic groups, and tech companies — to stop pandemics before they start, reduce fear and panic, and save countless lives.