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One Health PACT – Predicting Arboviruses Climate Tipping points

The Netherlands, with its dense population of humans and livestock, international transport and travel hubs, and water-dominated landscape is particularly vulnerable to infectious disease outbreaks. The One Health Consortium aims to understand if and how changes in climate, farming, water management and travel lead to mosquito-borne disease outbreaks, to be better prepared.

Interacting changes

Infectious disease outbreaks are increasingly common due to multiple, interacting global changes and developments in the human, animal or environment domains (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Multiple global changes in the human-animal-environment ecosystem, creating tipping points for infectious diseases outbreaks. © Marion Koopmans / Frank Deege

These changes can trigger processes that disturb the fragile balance in the complex human-animal-environment ecosystem, up to the point where the conditions are created for (new) infectious disease outbreaks, in animals and/or humans. In these situations, the state of the system has reached a pathogen-specific vulnerability threshold ( ‘tipping point’), making the system receptive to outbreaks of that pathogen if it is introduced. The Netherlands, with its dense population of humans and food animals, international transport and travel hubs (Schiphol, Rotterdam), and unique water-dominated landscape is particularly vulnerable to the occurrence of such tipping points and hence, outbreaks of (newly emerging) infectious diseases. In this project we will consider four change scenarios that could lead to the occurrence of such tipping points and disease emergence:

  1. changes in the climate,
  2. changes in water management,
  3. changes in farming methods and
  4. changes concerning international travel and import risks.

Despite this expected vulnerability, emerging disease outbreaks in the Netherlands are still relatively rare. We currently study these outbreaks – when they occur – reactively, individually and within relatively isolated silos (e.g., human vs animal vs ecological health, academic research vs public health research, public vs private sector). This ad-hoc, reactive and fragmented approach is ineffective and inefficient. Instead, the partners collaborating in this project will adopt a pro-active, integrated, multisectoral, One Health approach in studying emerging infectious disease outbreaks.

We will develop and implement a forward-looking integrated research agenda, measuring and modelling how projected demographic, climatological, ecological, and planological changes will impact the risk of emergence of infectious diseases in the Netherlands, and translate this understanding into effective, integrated outbreak preparedness and response actions.

Focus on vector-borne diseases (VBD)

To prevent spreading our efforts and resources too thinly, we will focus our research agenda on a specific category of infectious diseases, namely vector-borne diseases (VBD), which are particularly relevant to the Netherlands, due to its water-dominated ecosystems and abundant wildlife as potential amplifying hosts. VBD are infectious diseases that are transmitted through arthropods (e.g. mosquitoes). They have been expanding massively in (sub)tropical regions of the world through trade and habitat changes.

Scientific and societal breakthroughs we aim to achieve

Our ambition is to prepare for VBD outbreaks in a rapidly changing environment. The One Health Consortium will do this by

  • providing pathogen specific and generic early warning indicators that measure whether our human-livestock-wildlife ecosystem is (becoming) vulnerable for VBD outbreaks,
  • developing novel catch all tools for outbreak detection and risk assessment,
  • translating the knowledge into interventions based on in depth knowledge of the entire ecosystem and interactions in which such outbreaks may occur.

Our approach consists of four complementary, interacting pillars (figure 2). The One Health Consortium will gain a deep understanding of suitability of ecosystems in the Netherlands for VBD introduction, circulation, and expansion, and – conversely – the actionable factors that determine ecosystem resilience.

Figure 2: The four pillars of the aspired national research agenda on VBD preparedness and response. © Marion Koopmans / Frank Deege

Four pillars

The NWA project is organized into four complementary, interacting pillars, with each pillar covered by research activities organized into 9 work packages (WPs). For this project we are currently recruiting for 26 PhD positions. PhDs will be expected to have close collaborations within (but not limited to) each of 4 clusters of activities:

Partners

Erasmus MC – Viroscience
Utrecht University – Faculty of Veterinary Medicine
Wageningen University & Research
Leiden University Medical Center
Radboud University Medical Center
Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO-KNAW)
Avans Hogescholen
Leiden University
University Medical Centre Utrecht

Co-financiers partners

Deltares
Centre for Infectious Disease Control (RIVM)
Koninklijk Nederlands Meteorologisch Instituut (KNMI)
Red Cross Blood bank Foundation, Curacao
Sanquin, Department of Blood-borne infections
Technasium Foundation
Netherlands Centre for Monitoring of Vectors

(Inter)national collaborating partners

SOVON Dutch Centre for Field Ecology
Municipal Health Service Rotterdam
CEAB-CSIC: Centre for Advanced Studies of Blanes (CEAB), a research institute within the Superior Council of Scientific Investigations (CSIC)

More information you can find in the Summary of the NWO One Health proposal.