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Published: 2022-09-16

Sustainable health starts up two new EU projects, IDAlert and BEPREP

NEWS Pandemics or large-scale epidemics are often caused by zoonotic and vector-borne emerging diseases, and the recent pandemic has reminded us about the potential magnitudes of the consequences. We need to understand better the underlying processes – ecological, evolutionary, and behavioral to develop better strategies to upstream prevention of outbreaks, preferably before they become larger outbreaks or pandemics.

Text: Kristina Lindblom

Transmission patterns of zoonotic and vector borne diseases in Europe and worldwide are predicted to be significantly affected by environmental changes. The current rate of climate change rapidly alters temperatures, precipitation and weather system in general, which induce biogeographical shifts affecting the range distribution of for instance vector species like mosquitoes or ticks. Disturbance of ecosystems and loss of biodiversity – through a range of anthropogenic processes including deforestation in temperate or tropical regions – disrupts the natural ecological regimes, which is expected to ramp up the transmission of diseases and affecting the frequency of zoonotic spillover events.

New projects supported by the EU

The research group have by EU been granted several projects, to lead and co-lead, aimed at addressing questions in this area and which will run over a five-year period. This is done in a very collaborative environment together with a number of other universities or institutions in Europe and worldwide. A One Health perspective is central. Joacim Rocklöv and Henrik Sjödin will be leading the research work at Umeå University, in close collaboration with Heidelberg University, and with great support in the whole research group including from particularly Junwen Guo and Raman Preet who will be responsible for coordinating the administration. We are also welcoming Jan Semenza – previous Head of Health Determinants at the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) – to Umeå University. He will be bringing vital knowledge into research, lead and coordination in these projects and beyond. Beyond the Section of Sustainable Health, Åke Brännström (Dept. of Mathematics and Mathematical Statistics) and Magnus Evander (Dept. of Clinical Microbiology) are also engaged in the projects.

A broad approach is required to succeed

The research questions are interdisciplinary. Epidemiology and public health meet ecology and evolutionary theory, and social sciences becomes important with respect understanding human and societal behaviors. The new projects are bringing together public-health experts, epidemiologists, ecologists, evolutionary biologists, virologists, statisticians and mathematicians among others. While empirical efforts and new data are essential, the very nature of the processes and pathways as well as the temporal and spatial scales of the problems, complementary modelling approaches becomes very crucial by applying quantitative methods and method-development in mathematics, statistics and artificial intelligence.

From a general perspective, we really need to find ways to align anthropogenic activities with the biological regimes of nature so that our impact on the planet is minimized. Transformation to more sustainable ways are essential. We need all parts in balance – healthy and functioning ecosystems, biodiversity, a stabilized climate, and at the same time secure socio-economic values. Many things depend on it, including the resilience to emerging health threats. Research is needed.

Two projects, IDAlert (101057554) and BEPREP (101060568), are in the start-up phase. Umeå coordinates IDAlert and co-leads a work package in BEPREP which is coordinated by Frauke Ecke at Helsinki University. A third project, where Umeå is co-leading a work package, will if all goes according to plans be officially announced later this semester and is expected to begin early 2023.

 

Contact information

Henrik Sjödin
Senior research engineer
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Junwen Guo
Research coordinator
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