By Susan Babirye
STOP Spillover is working in seven priority countries to understand and address the risks posed by known zoonotic viruses with potential to spill over to humans and cause outbreaks, epidemics, and pandemics. In this blog post, we’re proud to introduce Dr. Danièle Konan, who leads STOP Spillover’s efforts in Côte d'Ivoire.
Dr. Konan is a social scientist who focuses on community health status. Her expertise extends beyond zoonotic viruses to include the important sociocultural determinants of diseases, risk factors in rural communities, and the integrated prevention-control-elimination of neglected tropical diseases.
We sat down with Dr. Konan to discuss STOP Spillover’s work in Côte d’Ivoire and the importance of using the One Health approach to prevent zoonotic disease outbreaks. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Susan: Let’s jump right in. What is the one strategy that can make the single biggest impact on the prevention of emerging diseases?
Danièle: We need frank collaboration between different sectors and timely data-sharing. It comes down to combining efforts of all sectors and together considering all of the risks associated with the emergence of epidemics and pandemics.
Susan: What do you think is unique about STOP Spillover?
Danièle: STOP Spillover is truly locally-led—from the heavy focus on stakeholder engagement from the outset to the local expert working groups that are engaged in the identification of intervention sites and the design of risk-reduction interventions to combat the spread of zoonotic diseases.
Susan: What do you think are the biggest challenges to preventing spillover?
Danièle: The limited capacity of governments and institutions to develop effective and sustainable strategies to prevent contagion is one of the biggest challenges to preventing future spillovers and pandemics. National and local stakeholders need to better understand emerging infectious diseases and to proactively address their root causes.
Susan: What impact do you think the COVID-19 pandemic has had on the trajectory of addressing future spillovers?
Danièle: All of the country’s national health sector efforts in Côte d’Ivoire were directed towards the management of the COVID-19 pandemic, which unfortunately led to the reemergence of other health crises in COVID’s shadow, such as HIV, Ebola, and SARS. We need to have more capacity to be able to handle more than one crisis at a time.
Susan: When you were a child, what did you aspire to be when you grew up and why?
Danièle: I always wanted to be a doctor, because it was my father’s wish. In my family, two of my sisters followed this path and, since I was the youngest and had good school grades, my father wanted me to follow the same path. But a different path opened up for me—social science research. Sociology really spoke to my passion for altruism and assisting people in need, and I wanted to understand the social structures that need to be changed to truly help. Today, I am very happy about the career pathway that I chose.
Susan: What advice would you give to leaders around the world who want to prevent the next pandemic before it starts?
Danièle: I would say four things. First, the One Health approach is key to preventing future pandemics. We need joint action by all sectors from animal health to environmental health to human health. Second, we need policy makers to understand the need to invest more in the prevention and control of emerging diseases. Third, we need better communication on the surveillance of these zoonotic diseases. And finally, we need to look at and learn from the pandemic management experience of other countries.
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