Despite millions of deaths and trillions in economic dislocations, COVID-19 has not been nearly as lethal as the 1918 Spanish flu or as disruptive as pandemic planners had feared. Dr. Rick Bright is haunted by the thought that a far more deadly pathogen could strike this century.

His nightmare? An avian influenza with the infectiousness of measles and the lethality of Ebola. Or maybe it will be a super-bacteria that, through repeated exposures to antibiotics in feed animals or pharmaceutical wastewater, becomes immune to every known treatment.

Dr. Bright joined The Rockefeller Foundation in March to help conceive and build a planetary warning system for these kind of predictable disasters. As the pandemic prevention institute takes yet another step toward becoming a reality, Dr. Bright sat down to discuss the importance of the effort, the decisions he and his team have made and the priorities they have set.

Q: How do you make the pandemic prevention institute truly global?

A: Making sure no single government, institution or organization owns the data that gets collected is crucial. The institute must be a decentralized, crowd-sourced and federated organization that scientists around the world trust.

Information collected by the institute must be able to help people respond to infectious disease outbreaks both at a highly localized and a global level. One of the most important ways of doing that is by convincing scientists around the world that their efforts will be recognized. Should some variant be identified because of the information a local doctor in Addis Ababa or Kansas City, Mo., uploaded into the system, that doctor should be recognized and invited to collaborate on the seminal paper announcing the find.

Pandemic surveillance only works if we build local knowledge economies all over the world so that people locally can have their data available instantly.

Read the full article about improving data systems at The Rockefeller Foundation.