IC3 to attend White House dengue workshop

IC3 researcher Dr Rachel Lowe has been invited to participate in the upcoming workshop “Integrating Prediction and Forecasting Models for Decision-Making: Dengue Epidemic Prediction”, convened by the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), which will be held 15 September 2014 in Washington DC. 

The workshop is the second in a series convened by OSTP in support of the Predict the Next Pandemic (PtNP) Initiative. The Initiative was launched by Dr. John Holdren, President Obama’s Science and Technology Advisor, at the Data to Knowledge to Action event held in November 2013. Since then, OSTP established the new federal Pandemic Prediction and Forecasting Science and Technology Working Group to advance specific prediction and forecasting priorities in support of the PtNP initiative.

This workshop will bring together federal and non-federal stakeholders to accelerate the development and federal application of models for predicting dengue epidemics. This activity will contribute of to the broader objective of applying prediction and forecasting models to support public health and national security decision?making.

According to Dr Lowe “The workshop provides a unique opportunity to bring together experts in modelling and managing dengue epidemics, to evaluate existing dengue models and devise a strategy to protect both local and global public health from future dengue epidemics.”

Dengue virus was identified as a potential candidate as dengue fever is a dangerous and debilitating infection that is endemic or epidemic across much of the world. Several federal departments and agencies in the US are developing capabilities to monitor, predict, or forecast dengue outbreaks and/or possess datasets that could strengthen new and ongoing modelling efforts. Mosquito biology, demographics, weather, climate, and travel patterns play an important role in transmission and could be included in the development of prediction and forecasting models. Further, enhanced dengue modelling could provide important insights into the spread of other vector?borne diseases, including chikungunya.

The overarching objective of this infectious disease prediction and forecasting pilot project is to advance disease models which will one day provide federal decision makers with actionable information on dengue epidemics. These epidemics directly impact the health of local populations, strain healthcare systems, and cause substantial economic loss. They also impact other areas as more travellers are likely to be affected and there is a greater probability of spread. Despite their importance, prediction of these epidemics is very challenging, with many factors potentially playing a role.

“Outcomes of the workshop will help to strengthen the activities of Climate Services for Health initiative at IC3 by bringing our science closer to decision maker needs”, says Dr. Lowe.

Previously this year, both lead author Rachel Lowe and senior author Xavier Rodó published a pioneering study in the Lancet Infectious Diseases (Lowe et al., 2014) that, for the first time, developed a prediction system for dengue epidemics in the 558 microregions of Brazil, driven by real time seasonal climate forecasts. The new early warning system proved successful in anticipating dengue epidemics in previous years and was cited as one of the five most impressive innovations of the World Cup in Brazil by the BBVA OpenMind.

The Climate and Health Group of the Climate Dynamics and Impacts Unit (UDIC) at IC3 studies the role of climate variability and change on human health, with a particular focus on the dynamics of infectious diseases, such as malaria, cholera and other diarrhoeal diseases, chikungunya, leishmaniasis and dengue. IC3 scientists develop tools to simulate how these diseases may propagate in time and space and to understand the role that external factors, such as the environment and climate, might play in exacerbating disease risk. Such tools help to derive better ways to halt their potential expansion.

According to Xavier Rodo, “dengue and other arboviral diseases pose a serious health problem to human societies essentially but not exclusively in tropical regions. The complex interplay between the increasingly globalised human connections together with the more changing climate and the pressure humans pose on the environment, may represent a serious and challenging threat to contain future expansions of those diseases, something we are already seeing at the moment with the propagation of chikungunya virus in the Caribbean”.
IC3 participates in several European Union funded research projects on these topics, including DENFREE: DENgue research Framework for Resisting Epidemics in Europe.

Lowe, R., Barcellos, C., Coelho, C. A. S., Bailey, T. C., Coelho, E. G., Jupp, T., Graham, R., Massa Ramalho, W., Sá Carvalho, M., Stephenson, D. B., Rodó, X, (2014). Dengue outlook for the World Cup in Brazil: an early warning model framework driven by real-time seasonal climate forecasts. Lancet Infectious Diseases, doi: 10.1016/S1473-3099(14)70781-9.

For more information contact:
Dr Rachel Lowe, Catalan Institute of Climate Sciences, Barcelona, Spain.
Tel: +34 93 567 99 77 Email: rachel.lowe@ic3.cat

For more details, visit the White House Office for Science and Technology Policy webpage: http://www.whitehouse.gov/administration/eop/ostp