03 Feb 2023
New multidisciplinary project will help address critical gaps in understanding about where and when deadly disease outbreaks are likely to occur
DART (Dengue Advanced Readiness Tools) is one of 24 Wellcome-supported projects that will use climate data to better predict and prepare for infectious diseases outbreaks
The climate crisis is a health emergency which is threatening the lives and wellbeing of communities around the world in many ways – including the spread of infectious diseases.
Wellcome has today announced its support for global research to advance solutions to address these urgent health threats, with funding for 24 research teams in 12 countries around the world to develop innovative digital tools to model the relationship between climate change and infectious disease. As global temperatures continue to warm, more places are becoming suitable habitats for disease-carrying mosquitoes. Increases in extreme weather events like storms and floods can also contaminate water supplies and disrupt access to safe sanitation, causing the spread of life-threatening infections.
The £22.7 million funding will allow these projects will address critical gaps in understanding about where and when deadly disease outbreaks are likely to occur, helping policy-makers to plan ahead, prepare healthcare systems and increase treatment accessibility and resources, and respond rapidly with targeted and efficient public health measures, saving more lives.
Felipe Colón, Technology Lead at Wellcome, said: “The connection between climate change and the spread of infectious disease is often overlooked, or not made at all. This has resulted in a critical shortage of tools that model the relationship between climate change and disease outbreaks, and those that do exist are often complex and not accessible for local health officials and policy-makers. Without these, decision-makers are in danger of finding themselves unprepared, leaving communities unprotected in the face of increasing disease outbreaks, risking the lives of millions.”
One of the funded projects, DART (Dengue Advanced Readiness Tools), brings together a community of relevant experts on climate data and infectious data, involving scientists from several departments at the University of Oxford alongside Vietnam’s National Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology and the University of Science and Technology of Hanoi. The multidisciplinary team aims to connect meteorological, hydrological, entomological, human behaviour and epidemiological data to provide a dengue forecasting and visualisation resource responding to the needs of health officers, the general public, and clinicians.
The project will concentrate on two case study cities, the Vietnamese capital Hanoi, which has experienced a recent emergence of dengue fever, and Ho Chi Minh City, which has persistent, high levels of dengue occurrence. Dengue fever is a viral infection transmitted to humans through the bite of infected mosquitoes and can be dangerous or life threatening if left untreated.
Dr Sarah Sparrow, and Professors Min Chen and David Wallom from the Oxford e-Research Centre will work with colleagues in the Oxford Clinical Research Unit and Oxford Departments of Physics and Biology to analyse epidemiological and weather forecasting data and produce meaningful information such as size, duration and timing of dengue outbreaks for public health officers, risk of exposure for the general public, and hospital/ICU bed occupancy for clinicians.
Dr Sarah Sparrow, the project PI, works on data driven coupling of climate model output to impact models and has extensive experience in preparing and analysing large ensembles of climate model output. She says, “The project will produce visualisations for the general public, like the UK’s pollen forecast which aims to help the public reduce their exposure and take appropriate action, to warn people of periods of likely high incidence of dengue fever, and provide some practical advice on what to do to reduce the risk of infection, as well as providing visualisations for stakeholders like the Centre for Disease Controls and hospitals in affected areas. In the future we hope to expand the tool to other dengue-afflicted areas of the world."