16 December 2009

A plea, and not for me: Support ProMED

Constant readers, I don't often ask you for anything — OK, I did ask you to consider an advance buy of SUPERBUG, but that's a win-win for all of us, right?

But today I'm going to ask you for something, and I hope you'll trust me that it, too, is a win-win all 'round.

ProMED Mail, the disease early-warning website and listserv of the International Society of Infectious Diseases, is having its annual fundathon. If you have any cash to spare, I would like you to consider making a small donation. Here's why. Here on the net:

We value crowdsourcing
. In the disease world, ProMED has been doing that longer and better than anyone. Their network of volunteer spotters — physicians, epidemiologists, animal-health experts, journalists and engaged citizens — has been running since 1994.

We value passion
. ProMED has more than 30 expert editors, all significant researchers in their respective specialties, who comb through those crowdsourced reports to find them gems. They all have lives and more than full-time jobs already. And they don't do this for glory: They don't even attach their names to their pieces, just their initials. (Among ProMED aficionados, it's a moment of insider glee to spot the initials and translate them to an important name.)

We value reach
. ProMED has more than 57,000 subscribers, each of them a potential contributor, in 187 countries. It runs sub-lists of news with articles relevant to particular parts of the world, volunteer-translated into Portuguese, Spanish, Russian, and French (for West Africa), and also runs sublists in English of articles relevant to the Mekong Basin and to English-speaking East Africa.

More than anything, we value effectiveness — and as a subscriber since sometime in the 1990s, I can testify that ProMED delivers. The listserv is the primary reason that the government of China fessed up to the existence of the international epidemic of SARS in spring 2003, after attempting to conceal its burgeoning outbreak for almost six months. ProMED pried loose that admission simply by posting a note from within its network: a question from a pseudonymous man in southern China that was relayed to an acquaintance in northern California and then to an epidemiologist in Annapolis who sent it to ProMED. (That story is told in my book Beating Back the Devil, and you can read it in this excerpt here.)

That is the power of a network, and that's why ProMED deserves our support.

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