EcoHealth Alliance

Last updated

EcoHealth Alliance
Type 501(c)(3) organization
Focus Pandemic prevention, Scientific research, One Health, Conservation
  • New York City, New York
Area served
Key people
Peter Daszak, President
Formerly called
Wildlife Trust

EcoHealth Alliance is a US-based [1] non-governmental organization with a stated mission of protecting people, animals, and the environment from emerging infectious diseases. The nonprofit is focused on research that aims to prevent pandemics and promote conservation in hotspot regions worldwide.


EcoHealth Alliance focuses on diseases caused by deforestation and increased interaction between humans and wildlife. The organization has researched the emergence of diseases such as severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), Nipah virus, Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS), Rift Valley fever, the Ebola virus, and COVID-19.

EcoHealth Alliance also advises the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE), the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and the World Health Organization (WHO) also on global wildlife trade, on threats of disease and environmental damage posed by these.

Following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, EcoHealth's ties with the Wuhan Institute of Virology were put into question in relation to investigations into the origin of COVID-19. [2] [3] [4] [5] Citing these concerns, the NIH withdrew funding to the organization in April 2020. [6] [7] Significant criticism followed this decision, including a joint letter signed by 77 Nobel laureates and 31 scientific societies. The NIH later reinstated funding to the organization as one of 11 institutions partnering in the Centers for Research in Emerging Infectious Diseases or CREID initiative in August of 2020. [8]


Founded under the name Wildlife Preservation Trust International in 1971 by British naturalist, author, and television personality Gerald Durrell, it became The Wildlife Trust in 1999. [9] In the fall of 2010, the organization changed its name to EcoHealth Alliance. [10] The rebrand reflected a change in the organization's focus, moving from solely a conservation nonprofit which focused mainly on the captive breeding of endangered species, to an environmental health organization with its foundation in conservation. [11]

The organization held an early professional conservation medicine meeting in 1996. [12] In 2002, they published an edited volume on the field through Oxford University Press: Conservation Medicine: Ecological Health in Practice. [13]

In February 2008, they published a paper in Nature entitled “Global trends in emerging infectious diseases” which featured an early rendition of a global disease hotspot map. [14] Using epidemiological, social, and environmental data from the past 50 years, the map outlined regions of the globe most at risk for emergent disease threats.

EcoHealth Alliance's funding comes mostly from U.S. federal agencies such as the Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, and U.S. Agency for International Development. [15] [16] Between 2011 and 2020, its annual budget has fluctuated between US$9 and US$15 million per year. [17]

COVID-19 pandemic

Following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, EcoHealth Alliance has been the subject of controversy and increased scrutiny due to its ties to the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV)—which has been at the center of speculation since early 2020 that SARS-CoV-2 may have escaped in a lab incident. [18] [19] [20] [21] [22] [23] [24] [25] Prior to the pandemic, EcoHealth Alliance was the only U.S.-based organization researching coronavirus evolution and transmission in China, where they partnered with the WIV, among others. [26] EcoHealth president Peter Daszak co-authored a February 2020 letter in The Lancet condemning "conspiracy theories suggesting that COVID-19 does not have a natural origin". [27] However, Daszak failed to disclose EcoHealth's ties to the WIV, which some observers noted as an apparent conflict of interest. [28] [29] In June 2021, The Lancet published an addendum in which Daszak disclosed his cooperation with researchers in China. [30]

In April 2020, the NIH ordered EcoHealth Alliance to cease spending the remaining $369,819 from its current NIH grant at the request of the Trump administration, [31] pressuring them by stating "it must hand over information and materials from Chinese research facility to resume funding for suspended grant" in reference to the Wuhan Institute of Virology. The cancelled grant was supposed to run through 2024. [32] Funding from NIH resumed in August 2020 after uproar from "77 U.S. Nobel laureates and 31 scientific societies". [8]

Work conducted at the Wuhan Institute of Virology under an NIH grant to the EHA has been at the center of political controversies during the pandemic. One such controversy centered on whether any experiments conducted under the grant could be accurately described as "gain-of-function" (GoF) research. [33] NIH officials (including Anthony Fauci) unequivocally denied during 2020 congressional hearings that the EHA had conducted GoF research with NIH funding. [34]

In October 2021, the EHA submitted a progress report detailing the results of a past experiment where some laboratory mice lost more weight than expected after being infected with a modified bat coronavirus. [35] The NIH subsequently sent a letter to the congressional committee on energy and commerce describing this experiment, but did not refer to it as "gain-of-function". [33] Whether such research qualifies as "gain-of-function" is a matter of considerable debate among relevant experts, [36] but there is widespread agreement that these experiments are unrelated to SARS-CoV-2 and could not have directly contributed to the origin of the COVID-19 pandemic. [33] An EcoHealth Alliance spokesperson has stated that these findings are not new, and were in fact described in an NIH progress report in 2018. [34]



EcoHealth Alliance partners with USAID on the PREDICT subset of USAID's EPT (Emerging Pandemic Threats) program. [37] PREDICT seeks to identify which emerging infectious diseases are of the greatest risk to human health. Many of EcoHealth Alliance's international collaborations with in-country organizations and institutions fall under the PREDICT umbrella. Scientists in the field collect samples from local fauna in order to track the spread of potential harmful pathogens and to stop them from becoming outbreaks. Scientists also train local technicians and veterinarians in animal sampling and information gathering.

Active Countries: Bangladesh, Cameroon, China, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Guinea, India, Indonesia, Jordan, Kenya, Liberia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Sierra Leone, Sudan, South Sudan, Thailand, Uganda, Vietnam


IDEEAL (Infectious Disease Emergence and Economics of Altered Landscapes Program) [38] seeks to study the impact deforestation and land-use change have in Sabah, Malaysia in regards to increased risk of zoonoses. This work is centered in particular around the local palm oil industry. The project also suggests sustainable alternatives to large-scale deforestation to the country's business leaders and its policy-makers. The program is based at the Development Health Research Unit (DHRU) in Malaysia, cofounded with the Malaysian University of Sabah.

Rift Valley Fever Virus

Rift Valley fever (RVFV) has wreaked havoc on the livestock industry in sub-Saharan Africa where it is most prominent. EcoHealth Alliance is working in South Africa to better predict outbreaks by studying the impact of environment and human behaviour in regards to the mosquito-spread virus. EcoHealth Alliance is also already at work with policymakers on a plan should RVFV spread to the United States.

Bat Conservation

A growing body of research indicates that bats are an important factor in both ecosystem health, and disease emergence. A number of hypotheses have been proposed for the high number of zoonoses that have come from bat populations in recent decades. One group of researchers hypothesized “that flight, a factor common to all bats but to no other mammals, provides an intensive selective force for coexistence with viral parasites through a daily cycle that elevates metabolism and body temperature analogous to the febrile response in other mammals. On an evolutionary scale, this host-virus interaction might have resulted in the large diversity of zoonotic viruses in bats, possibly through bat viruses adapting to be more tolerant of the fever response and less virulent to their natural hosts.” [39]

Project Deep Forest

According to the FAO, roughly 18 million acres of forest are lost every year due to deforestation, [40] an area roughly the size of Panama. Increased contact between humans and the animal species whose habitat is being destroyed has led to increases in zoonotic disease. EcoHealth Alliance scientists are testing species for pathogens in areas with very little, moderate, and complete deforestation in order to track potential outbreaks. This data is used to promote the preservation of natural lands and diminish the devastating effects of land-use change.

Project DEFUSE

Project DEFUSE was a rejected DARPA grant application, which proposed to sample bat coronaviruses from various locations in China. [41] To evaluate whether bat coronaviruses might spillover into the human population, the grantees proposed to create chimeric coronaviruses which were mutated in different locations, before evaluating their ability to infect human cells in the laboratory. [42] One proposed alteration was to modify bat coronaviruses to insert a cleavage site for the Furin protease at the S1/S2 junction of the spike (S) viral protein. Another part of the grant aimed to create noninfectious protein-based vaccines containing just the spike protein of dangerous coronaviruses. These vaccines would then be administered to bats in caves in southern China to help prevent the next outbreak. [41] Co-investigators on the rejected proposal included Ralph Baric from UNC, Linfa Wang from Duke–NUS Medical School in Singapore, and Shi Zhengli from the Wuhan Institute of Virology. [43]

See also

Related Research Articles

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Coronaviruses are a group of related RNA viruses that cause diseases in mammals and birds. In humans and birds, they cause respiratory tract infections that can range from mild to lethal. Mild illnesses in humans include some cases of the common cold, while more lethal varieties can cause SARS, MERS and COVID-19. In cows and pigs they cause diarrhea, while in mice they cause hepatitis and encephalomyelitis.

W. Ian Lipkin Professor, microbiologist, epidemiologist

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The Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention is an independent agency of the National Health Commission, based in Changping District, Beijing, China.

Novel coronavirus (nCoV) is a provisional name given to coronaviruses of medical significance before a permanent name is decided upon. Although coronaviruses are endemic in humans and infections normally mild, such as the common cold, cross-species transmission has produced some unusually virulent strains which can cause viral pneumonia and in serious cases even acute respiratory distress syndrome and death.

Shi Zhengli is a Chinese virologist who researches SARS-like coronaviruses of bat origin. Shi directs the Center for Emerging Infectious Diseases at the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV). In 2017, Shi and her colleague Cui Jie discovered that the SARS coronavirus likely originated in a population of cave-dwelling horseshoe bats in Xiyang Yi Ethnic Township, Yunnan. She came to prominence in the popular press as "Batwoman" during the COVID-19 pandemic for her work with bat coronaviruses. Shi was included in Time's 100 Most Influential People of 2020.

Wildlife trade and zoonoses Health risks associated with the trade in exotic wildlife

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Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS‑CoV‑2), is the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, the respiratory illness responsible for the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The virus was previously referred to by its provisional name, 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV), and has also been called human coronavirus 2019. First identified in the city of Wuhan, Hubei, China, the World Health Organization declared the outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern on 30 January 2020, and a pandemic on 11 March 2020. SARS‑CoV‑2 is a positive-sense single-stranded RNA virus that is contagious in humans. As described by the US National Institutes of Health, it is the successor to SARS-CoV-1, the virus that caused the 2002–2004 SARS outbreak.

Huanan Seafood Wholesale Market Market in Wuhan, Hubei, China

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Wuhan Institute of Virology Research Institute in Wuhan, Hubei, China

The Wuhan Institute of Virology, Chinese Academy of Sciences is a research institute on virology administered by the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), which reports to the State Council of the People's Republic of China. The institute is one of nine independent organisations in the Wuhan Branch of the CAS. Located in Jiangxia District, Wuhan, Hubei, it opened mainland China's first biosafety level 4 (BSL-4) laboratory. The institute has collaborated with the Galveston National Laboratory in the United States, the Centre International de Recherche en Infectiologie in France, and the National Microbiology Laboratory in Canada. The institute has been an active premier research center for the study of coronaviruses.

COVID-19 misinformation False or misleading information about COVID-19

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Peter Daszak British-American zoologist

Peter Daszak is a British zoologist, consultant and public expert on disease ecology, in particular on zoonosis. He is the president of EcoHealth Alliance, a nonprofit non-governmental organization that supports various programs on global health and pandemic prevention. He is also a member of the Center for Infection and Immunity at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. Daszak was involved in investigations into the initial outbreak which eventually developed into the COVID-19 pandemic and became a member of the World Health Organization team sent to investigate the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic in China. This became controversial due to Daszak's previous activities with the Wuhan Institute of Virology, perceived by some as a conflict of interest.

Bat coronavirus RaTG13 is a SARS-like betacoronavirus that infects the horseshoe bat Rhinolophus affinis. It was discovered in 2013 in bat droppings from a mining cave near the town of Tongguan in Mojiang county in Yunnan, China. Recent research suggests that BANAL-52, a strain of coronavirus found in bats in Laos is a closer match to SARS-CoV-2 than RaTG13 is.

Impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on animals Overview of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on animals

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected animals directly and indirectly. SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is zoonotic, which likely to have originated from animals such as bats and pangolins. Human impact on wildlife and animal habitats may be causing such spillover events to become much more likely. The largest incident to date was the culling of 14 to 17 million mink in Denmark after it was discovered that they were infected with a mutant strain of the virus.

Investigations into the origin of COVID-19 Inquiries into the origins of SARS-CoV-2

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Gain-of-function research is medical research that genetically alters an organism in a way that may enhance the biological functions of gene products. This may include an altered pathogenesis, transmissibility, or host range, i.e. the types of hosts that a microorganism can infect. This research is intended to reveal targets to better predict emerging infectious diseases and to develop vaccines and therapeutics. For example, influenza B can only infect humans and harbor seals. Introducing a mutation that would allow influenza B to infect rabbits in a controlled laboratory situation would be considered a "gain of function" experiment as the virus did not previously have that function. That type of experiment could then help reveal which parts of the virus are responsible for its host range, enabling the creation of antiviral medicines which block this function.

COVID-19 lab leak theory Proposed theory on the origins of COVID-19

The COVID-19 lab leak theory proposes that SARS-CoV-2 escaped from a laboratory in Wuhan, China, resulting in the COVID-19 pandemic. The idea developed from the circumstantial evidence that the Wuhan Institute of Virology (WIV) is close in proximity to the pandemic's early outbreak and from suspicions about the secretiveness of the Chinese government's response to the pandemic. Scientists from the WIV were known to have collected SARS-related coronaviruses; the allegation that the institute performed undisclosed risky work on such viruses is central to some versions of the idea. Some versions of the theory, particularly those alleging human intervention in the SARS-CoV-2 genome, are based on misinformation or misrepresentations of scientific evidence.

DRASTIC is a loose collection of internet activists investigating the origins of COVID-19, in particular the lab leak theory. DRASTIC is composed of about 30 core members, whose activity is primarily organized through the social media website Twitter. They formed in February 2020, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. DRASTIC members have called for a "full and unrestricted investigation" into the origins of COVID-19, conducted independently of the World Health Organization. Most scientists think that COVID-19 likely had a natural origin, and some have considered that a potential lab leak is worth investigating.

China COVID-19 cover-up refers to the efforts of the Government of China and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) to hide information about the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and the origins of SARS-CoV-2. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the Chinese government has made efforts to obscure the initial outbreak of the disease, clamp down on domestic debate or dissent about it, hinder further research into its origins, and spread false counter-narratives about the virus. The Chinese government has stated that no cover-up regarding the COVID-19 outbreak has taken place.


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