Program Sponsored by: Ecohealth Alliance

The Network

Mr. Muhammad Rizwan (UVAS, Pakistan) and Dr. Kendra Phelps (EcoHealth Alliance) untangle a bat from a mist net near Lahore, Pakistan

WAB-Net Mission Statement

The Western Asia Bat Research Network (WAB-Net, pronounced ‘wah-bee-net’) advocates a ‘bats for peace’ mission that facilitates scientific collaboration among diverse experts in Western Asia to develop a bat research network that simultaneously enhances bat conservation and early detection of zoonotic diseases in this politically volatile region.

Participants of the inaugural Western Asia Bat Research Network (WAB-Net) annual workshop. Over 30 participants (representing 11 different nations within Western Asia) attended the meeting

Defining ‘Western Asia’

Western Asia is a region recognized as a geopolitical entity but not always clearly defined across international agencies (e.g., UNESCO, WHO, OECD, UNIDO, IUCN). To delimit “Western Asia” for the purposes of our network, we include the following 20 countries: Afghanistan, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Georgia, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Iraq, Iran, Israel, Oman, Pakistan, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, and Yemen. While Afghanistan and Pakistan are often considered part of “Central” or “South” Asia, we include both in our network as they serve as an important biogeographic gateway linking bats and (potentially) their associated pathogens with Asian countries to the east.

Network Approach and Objectives

Established in 2017, WAB-Net takes a One Health approach that integrates bat conservation with disease surveillance by conducting on-the-ground, hypothesis-driven research that brings together regional experts from a variety of disciplines (e.g., bat ecologists, conservationists, virologists, public health officials); strengthening scientific capacity via research exchanges that provide field-to-lab training, social media and communication platforms that allow for direct dialogue and information sharing, in-region laboratory testing, and annual workshops to facilitate networking among WAB-Net members; and promoting the development and leadership of local scientists and officials.

In general, WAB-Net aims to:

  1. Facilitate interactions among bat researchers scattered across Western Asia, and between bat researchers and those conducting virus surveillance to develop a collaborative research network, and
  2. Conduct hypothesis-driven research that integrates ecological research on bats with virus surveillance to identify “win-win” solutions that promote bat conservation and strengthen diagnostic capabilities to safeguard global health.

Network Structure

WAB-Net is a multinational network comprised of regional members from any of the 20 Western Asian countries and international members conducting bat- or virus-focused research in the region. Based on the adage that “local problems require local solutions”, network members collaborate to exchange knowledge, ideas, and experiences to identify critical gaps in research on host-virus dynamics, ultimately shaping the overall direction of research based on locally identified priorities. In addition, screening and characterization of diagnostic samples (collected from bats following standardized non-lethal protocols) will be carried out in regional laboratories to enhance biosurveillance capabilities in Western Asia.

EcoHealth Alliance is the founding organization of WAB-Net and serves to facilitate interactions within the network, leveraging connections with scientists and other stakeholders in the region. EHA provides support to existing organizations and scientists, builds and strengthens scientific capacity, and brings together groups in a strategic fashion, so as to ensure maximum effectiveness and resiliency of the network.

WAB-Net is also guided by a Scientific Advisory Board (SAB) comprised of global experts with backgrounds in bat ecology and conservation, virology and laboratory diagnostics, and wildlife disease ecology. The SAB reviews proposed research activities, provides expertise during annual data sharing and capacity building workshops, monitors the network’s growth and communication, and liaises with regional and global stakeholders to promote the mission of WAB-Net.