Integrating Bat Ecology and Pathogen Surveillance: The Western Asia Bat Research Network

EcoHealth Alliance
Published: 29 August 2022
Last edited: 29 August 2022
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Summary

The Western Asia Bat Research Network (WAB-Net) aims to enhance bat conservation and zoonotic disease detection through collaborative research and capacity building-focused trainings with bat biologists, virologists, government authorities, and academics from the region. WAB-Net coordinates research focused on bats, zoonotic diseases, and host-virus dynamics in 7 countries. This proactive approach to pandemic prevention aims to identify both zoonotic viruses before they spill over from bat hosts to humans and the risk factors associated with spillover. Field trainings, including proper PPE usage, bat capture and handling, and cold chain management, promote positive health outcomes for both the humans and bats. All samples are sent to two regional labs where trainings and standardized protocols are implemented, furthering biosafety and scientific advancement in the region. WAB-Net’s “bats for peace” mission promotes strengthened outcomes in both scientific discoveries and constructive political conversations.

Classifications

Region
West Asia, Middle East
Scale of implementation
Multi-national
National
Subnational
Ecosystem
Desert ecosystems
Forest ecosystems
Grassland ecosystems
Hot desert
Temperate deciduous forest
Temperate evergreen forest
Temperate grassland, savanna, shrubland
Theme
Access and benefit sharing
Connectivity / transboundary conservation
Legal & policy frameworks
One Health
Science and research
Species management
Species Conservation and One Health Interventions
Species Status Assessment
Wildlife Health Surveillance (to capture biodiversity, health, disease, and pathogen surveillance)
Species Monitoring and Research
Species Disease Early warning systems
Species Conservation Planning
Risk communication, community engagement and behaviour change
Risk assessment
Outbreak investigation and access to laboratory
One Health coordination mechanism
One Health
Animal health
Biodiversity-health nexus
Neglected tropical diseases, emerging infectious diseases, non-communicable diseases, zoonoses, antimicrobial resistance
Challenges
Loss of Biodiversity
Conflicting uses / cumulative impacts
Ecosystem loss
Health
Lack of public and decision maker’s awareness
Lack of technical capacity
Poor monitoring and enforcement
Poor governance and participation

Location

Armenia
Azerbaijan
Georgia
Jordan
Oman
Pakistan
Turkey

Challenges

The region of Western Asia is both geopolitically contentious and an understudied region in terms of the diversity and distribution of bat species and their associated viruses. Despite the critical ecological and economic roles that bats play in maintaining healthy ecosystems around the world, bats are greatly underappreciated especially compared to other more “charismatic” species. WAB-Net addresses multiple social and environmental challenges by finding commonalities and shared interests amongst regional One Health expertise, which has resulted in open communication, building of trust, and fostering collaborative relationships across the region. 

Beneficiaries

  • Humans in the region, their health and wellbeing
  • Bat species across the region, their health and conservation
  • Global human population, through pandemic prevention and positively enhanced geopolitical dynamics

How do the building blocks interact?

The One Health approach is an inherently collaborative one – by valuing human, animal, and environmental health outcomes and recognizing their interdependence on one another, One Health encourages coordination across disciplines. WAB-Net utilizes a One Health approach and brings together multi-sectoral experts for regional discussions and trainings. By including each sector in their hands-on trainings WAB-Net is able to create well-informed and diverse field teams.

Impacts

Western Asia has been historically overlooked as ecologically important for bat species. The work of WAB-Net is filling in knowledge and awareness gaps for this crossroads location. The standardization of protocols at the two regional laboratories where all diagnostic samples are tested improves efficiency and increases scientists’ ability to repeat processes and compare results. The trainings provided are uniquely in-depth and hands-on, with scientists often spending weeks in-country with field teams demonstrating proper biosafety and nonlethal sampling procedures. This fosters long term relationships and allows for additional ecological data to be collected, advancing overall conservation and scientific goals. The collaborative nature of WAB-Net’s work also plays an essential role in building and maintaining relationships across diverse cultures, religions, and country lines.

Contributed by

kellyrosenunziata_42006's picture

Kelly Rose Nunziata EcoHealth Alliance