Strengthening Europe’s resilience to emerging health threats

07 June 2022
IDAlert aims to tackle the emergence and transmission of zoonotic pathogens by developing novel indicators, innovative early warning systems and efficient tools for decision-makers, and by evaluating adaptation and mitigation strategies to build a Europe more resilient to emerging health threats. BSC is part of the coordination team alongside Umeå University.

As our planet heats up due to climate change, outbreaks of zoonotic diseases – diseases that spread between animals and humans– are increasing and expanding to new parts of the world, in particular Europe. Warmer temperatures, more variable rainfall, and the loss of biodiversity, influence the survival and spread of zoonotic pathogens, and the reproduction and geographic location of their vectors, such as mosquitoes or ticks.

Past and recent health crises, including the COVID-19 pandemic, have shown there is a need for stronger and more inclusive preparedness and responsiveness to epidemic-prone pathogens at the EU and global level. IDAlert aims to tackle this challenge by developing a range of decision-support tools and systems to enable decision-makers to act on time with improved responses.

“The project has chosen an innovative co-creation, participatory, and citizen science approach, involving stakeholders from the start to integrate needs and address gaps, and a One Health perspective, recognising the close connection between humans, animals, and the environment, and the increase in infectious diseases,” says Joacim Röcklov, IDAlert Project Coordinator, Umeå University (Sweden).

The project is co-led by ICREA Professor Rachel Lowe, who leads the Global Health Resilience team at BSC and is the Executive Director of the Lancet Countdown in Europe, a new transdisciplinary collaboration monitoring progress on health and climate change in the region. Alongside climate scientists, software engineers and knowledge integration experts in the BSC Earth Sciences department, the Global Health Resilience team conducts research to develop an early warning tool to protect Europe from existing, increasing, and new infectious diseases. BSC researchers also contribute to the co-development of disease risk indicators, both for supporting early action protocols and assessing potential impacts of future infectious diseases. In addition, they work on the dissemination of project results to non-academic audiences through climatic health bulletins and case studies developed with stakeholders from various hotspots, including the Public Health Agencies of Barcelona and Girona.

IDAlert will develop new climate and health indicators (i.e. for viruses circulating among wild birds and mosquitoes such as the West Nile Virus) and monitoring mechanisms, incorporate an inequality lens, and inform policy development across sectors, setting a new standard in support of policy and decision-making.

“IDAlert will contribute valuable, scientifically robust and policy-relevant indicators to the Lancet Countdown in Europe and allow us to track the impact of climate change on zoonotic disease risk using a One Health approach. These indicators will help key stakeholders design interventions to protect vulnerable communities from emerging disease threats across Europe” said ICREA Professor Rachel Lowe, BSC Global Health Resilience Team Leader and Executive Director of the Lancet Countdown in Europe.

Surveillance, early warning, and response systems will also be developed and made accessible through a user interface that allows for easy visualisation and exploration of data and results, making it simpler to undertake effective measures and contain outbreaks.

IDAlert will assess the costs, effectiveness, benefits and policy viability of adaptation measures and strategies to improve the climate resilience of health systems in Europe. Finally, the project will look at socio-economic aspects, investigating the emergence, transmission, and spread of zoonotic pathogens and consequences of climate and health policies on different socio-demographic, high-risk, and hard-to-reach groups, and how policy can help reduce these impacts.

The validity of the tools and methods developed in the project will be demonstrated in key hotspot sites in Spain, The Netherlands, Greece, Sweden, and Bangladesh, which are experiencing rapid urban transformation and climate-induced disease threats.

The project will maximise its reach and build on its ties with the European Climate and Health Observatory, the European Climate Adaptation Platform Climate-ADAPT, and the Lancet Countdown in Europe to guarantee long-term sustainability, policy impact and uptake.

Through its activities and objectives, IDAlert will ultimately contribute to more robust climate policies, guide authorities in public health, veterinary and environmental services, and safeguard the populations in Europe from the transmission and emergence of infectious pathogens due to climate change.

About IDAlert

IDAlert – Infectious Disease decision-support tools and Alert systems to build climate Resilience to emerging health Threats officially started on 1 June 2022 is a € 9.18 million project and lasts for five years. The project is funded by the European Commission under the Horizon Europe programme with Grant Agreement number 101057554.

The consortium involves 19 organisations from Sweden, Germany, France, Spain, Greece, The Netherlands, Italy, UK, and Bangladesh, with world leading experts in a wide range of disciplines including zoonoses, infectious disease epidemiology, social sciences, artificial intelligence, environmental economics, and environmental and climate sciences.

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