‘Global One Health’ is the theme of Wageningen University & Research’s 99th Foundation Day celebrations today. The keynote speaker is the British professor of epidemiology Sir Roy Anderson. He came up with the model for the spread of infectious diseases that is now used by experts worldwide.
The increased movement of people, animals and goods around the world has also helped the spread of infectious diseases. The Ebola virus, which probably originated with bats, caused a major epidemic in West Africa; the Zika virus, which is transmitted by mosquitoes, is spreading like wildfire throughout Latin America; and migrating birds from Asia are bringing bird flu to Europe. The dividing line between human and animal health is becoming blurred, leading to the birth of a new research topic: Global One Health.
Roy Anderson, the keynote speaker at Wageningen University’s 99th Foundation Day event on 9 March, is considered to be one of the world’s leading authorities on this subject. In 1992, the British epidemiologist published Infectious Diseases of Humans, the ‘bible’ for researchers and policy-makers who seek to combat dangerous infectious diseases. Experts around the world still use the book’s mathematical formulas for predicting the spread and quantifying infectious diseases.
Mad Cow Disease
Anderson used his formulas to predict the spread of HIV. His model also turned out to be good at predicting how many other infectious diseases would develop. And he advised, when Mad Cow Disease (BSE) broke out in Britain in the 1980s, the UK government to introduce a ban on the sale of beef on the bone and the processing of bone meal in animal feed. He argued that this would soon cause the fatal brain disease in humans to disappear. That optimistic assessment was controversial at the time but Anderson was proved right.
Roy Anderson had the same status in Britain as the Rotterdam virologist Ab Osterhaus had for a long time in the Netherlands – the most important scientific advisor on infectious diseases. But like Osterhaus, this got him into trouble in 2009. At that point, a new kind of flu was spreading — influenza A(H1N1), better known as swine flu. The World Health Organization (WHO) said there was a threat of a pandemic. Anderson advised the British government to order millions of vaccines. But when the number of dead people was much lower than expected, Anderson was roundly condemned, like Osterhaus in the Netherlands. He was also an advisor to the pharmaceutical company GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), and was depicted as a ‘false prophet’ who had exaggerated the danger of a pandemic in order to help GSK win a mega-contract. However, these accusations were rebuffed by the WHO and the British government.
In the past decade Anderson has been focusing on neglected tropical diseases that companies like GSK barely look at, like sleeping sickness, river blindness, dengue fever and Ebola. The main priority for Anderson is that if an epidemic develops, the international community should rapidly be in a position to figure out the disease and develop a vaccine.
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