Preserving Health Security: ProMED's Struggle Threatens Public Health

In a world that's become increasingly interconnected, the rapid spread of infectious diseases has emerged as a significant global challenge. From the devastating impact of the Ebola virus to the more recent COVID-19 pandemic, the need for timely and accurate disease surveillance has never been more apparent. Enter ProMED-mail, the disease detection network that has been credited for exposing several health events worldwide. This valuable tool in the detection and response to emerging infectious diseases is now on the brink of collapse and public health will most likely suffer for it. 

ProMED, short for Program for Monitoring Emerging Diseases, is an online platform that serves as an early warning system for emerging infectious diseases. Founded in 1994 by Dr. Stephen Morse, this innovative initiative provides real-time information about outbreaks, epidemics, and other health events of international concern. Operating as a moderated email list, ProMED disseminates verified and timely disease-related information to a global network of subscribers, including healthcare professionals, epidemiologists, researchers, and policy-makers.

“ProMED-mail provided the foundation to several public health surveillance tools, including HealthMap, and was a fundamental resource for those of us working in digital disease detection in the early 21st century,” says Graham Dodge, President of PathCheck Foundation and founding CEO of Sickweather. “It also introduced many of us to– and embodied the concept of One Health by combining reports of human disease alongside zoonotic disease.”

Significance in the Detection of Emerging Infectious Diseases

  • Real-Time Information Dissemination: ProMED's ability to rapidly share verified information is instrumental in detecting and responding to emerging infectious diseases. By providing timely updates on outbreaks and incidents, ProMED enables healthcare professionals and organizations to implement swift preventive and control measures, minimizing the spread of diseases.
  • Global Collaboration: Infectious diseases know no borders, and ProMED fosters international collaboration. It allows experts from different countries to share their observations, experiences, and insights, contributing to a comprehensive understanding of emerging threats and facilitating the development of effective response strategies.
  • Early Warning and Preparedness: ProMED serves as an early warning system, often detecting outbreaks before they gain significant momentum. This foresight enables health authorities to prepare for potential epidemics, allocate resources, and establish containment protocols, ultimately reducing the severity of the impact.
  • Public Awareness and Education: Beyond its professional subscribers, ProMED also plays a crucial role in educating the general public about emerging infectious diseases. By sharing accurate and easily understandable information, ProMED helps dispel myths and misinformation, empowering individuals to take appropriate precautions and seek timely medical attention.
  • Supporting Research and Policy Development: The data shared on ProMED contributes to epidemiological research, aiding scientists in studying disease patterns, transmission dynamics, and the effectiveness of interventions. Additionally, policy-makers can make informed decisions based on real-time information, enhancing their ability to protect public health.

ProMED's Success Stories

Over the years, ProMED has played a pivotal role in the identification and containment of numerous emerging infectious diseases. Some notable instances include:

  • SARS Outbreak (2003): ProMED played a vital role in disseminating information about Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), helping health agencies coordinate responses and control the epidemic.
  • H1N1 Influenza Pandemic (2009): ProMED facilitated the rapid exchange of information about the H1N1 influenza virus, aiding global efforts to monitor, diagnose, and manage the pandemic.
  • Ebola Outbreaks: ProMED provided early alerts about multiple Ebola outbreaks, allowing health organizations to swiftly respond and prevent larger-scale epidemics.
  • COVID-19 Pandemic (ongoing): ProMED continues to serve as a critical source of accurate information about the COVID-19 pandemic, aiding in the global response and sharing updates on research, vaccination efforts, and public health measures.

ProMED stands as a testament to the power of technology, collaboration, and information-sharing in combating emerging infectious diseases. In an era where the next viral threat is just a plane ride away, ProMED helps swiftly detect, disseminate, and respond to health crises and should be preserved, but it can also serve as a framework for modern tools like artificial intelligence, decentralized relays, and other open protocols inclusive of citizen engagement. 

As we navigate the challenges of an interconnected world with real-time demands, ProMED's significance in safeguarding public health reminds us of the importance of preparedness, communication, and solidarity in the face of infectious disease outbreaks. At PathCheck Foundation, we are dedicated to keeping these values at the center of our work in developing open source, privacy preserving technologies for public health and pandemic preparedness.