Led by a team of Cornell faculty, the Northeast Regional Center for Excellence in Vector-Borne Diseases received a five-year, $8.7 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in July. NEVBD plans to use this funding to continue forming relationships with vector control and surveillance workers, as well as evaluating current measures taken to reduce disease burden, aiming to continue their three goals for training, applied research and community of practice.
NEVBD formed in 2017 in response to a declining supply of medical entomologists in the United States, during a time of increased endemic and newly emerging vector-borne disease infections, such as West Nile virus. The center first received a $10 million grant from the CDC in 2017, which funded many of their programs, such as their Master of Science in Entomology: Vector-Borne Disease Biology program in the University’s graduate department of entomology.
Since its inception, NEVBD has brought together academic communities and public health organizations at the local, state and federal level to address vector-borne disease concerns in the northeast region of the U.S., covering 13 states and the District of Columbia.
With the new $8.7 million grant, NEVBD plans to address the workforce needs of the northeast region by increasing opportunities for students and professionals to receive training in vector-borne disease control. One of these initiatives is the creation of vector biology education programs that focus on recruiting underrepresented students in STEM.
“There is a lot of scientifically based evidence that these communities are not being reached and they are at the greatest risk of being severely impacted,” said Prof. Laura Harrington, entomology, who is also the director of NEVBD.
Education projects include the continued support of the Master of Science in Entomology program, undergraduate and graduate-level courses in vector biology and vector-borne diseases, applied practice experiences for Master of Public Health students, undergraduate internship programs and a vector biology boot camp program for the professional workforce. The boot camp program features short courses, rapid response training and an online medical entomology certificate program.
Beyond training, the center also plans to enhance their applied research agenda, specifically evaluating important areas of vector management. This includes the establishment of permanent mosquito pesticide resistance monitoring sites and evaluation of host-targeted methods for reducing tick encounters.
NEVBD also plans to evaluate the most effective ways of disseminating vector-borne disease information to communities that are disproportionately affected by vectored diseases, such as agricultural and outdoor workers.
The center’s goal of facilitating a community of practice builds connections between partners in the northeast, including Columbia University, the Connecticut Agricultural Experiment Station and the New York State Department of Health. Harrington said she and her team hope to use the new funds to work alongside regional stakeholders to form an advisory board that will direct future activities of the center and continue to facilitate connections between professionals in the field.
The grant has allowed NEVBD to enter a new phase in their development as the leadership team continues to search for ways to ameliorate the gap in public health infrastructure.
“Currently, this program is not sustainable, because it requires a huge investment from a sole source. My hope is that we can find ways to make it financially sustainable, which means more support from state funding and other sources,” Harrington said. “We do a lot of training, but in the end we want the vector control units and the health departments to do that training on their own and be independent.”
Anna Labiner can be reached at [email protected]