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Epidemic preparedness workshop explores key role of interdisciplinary research

21 Feb 2020

Today the MRC, the Academy of Medical Sciences and the InterAcademy Partnership, publish the findings from a two-day meeting on epidemic preparedness held in October 2019. The workshop set out to explore the evidence required for effective epidemic preparedness, prevention and response, particularly in low- and middle-income countries, and how interdisciplinary research can best be facilitated to meet these evidence needs.

Emergence of infections is influenced by a multiplicity of factors: biological, environmental, behavioural, social, cultural, health system-related and political.

Integrating the expertise and insights from multiple domains of research, as well as other stakeholders such as policymakers and civil society organisations, is therefore essential to ensure that countries, and the world more generally, is better prepared for and more able to respond to outbreaks of emerging and re-emerging diseases.

As well as supporting their individual efforts, governments, funders and institutions must also ensure that structures and opportunities are in place for researchers from these different domains to work together fruitfully and productively. The report found a key need for:

  • Building and sustaining partnerships: Establishing multidisciplinary research partnerships in advance of epidemics and sustaining them.
  • Community engagement: Developing strong relationships with communities, building trust, and involving communities in agenda -setting, intervention development and research activities.
  • Capacity building: Developing in-country, multi- and interdisciplinary research capacity.
  • Funder engagement: Ensuring that funders prioritise and develop appropriate mechanisms to support multi- and interdisciplinary research for epidemic preparedness and response. 

Professor Jimmy Whitworth, Chair of the report, said:

“The outbreak of novel coronavirus demonstrates the complex nature of the response needed to tackle a new infectious disease outbreak. A multitude of research disciplines are needed to understand the disease quickly enough to stop it spreading and treat those with the infection.

“The future of global health security relies on a greater emphasis from funders and policymakers being placed on epidemic preparedness, particularly on the need for more interdisciplinary research.

“Scientists from across the world need to work together, crossing the typical boundaries of their specific subject area, to understand the full range of physiological, cultural, environmental and socioeconomic factors affecting infectious disease emergence and transmission.

“Researchers must also come together to develop and evaluate effective interventions, risk assessment models and to compare the impact of different intervention strategies.

“It is only if we are able to work effectively in this way that we will be able to effectively inform and evaluate national and global preparedness plans, so that the world is ready to respond to the next emerging disease.”

Dr Anna Kinsey, programme manager for viral research at the MRC, said:

“Building on the MRC’s experience in leading rapid research funding responses to disease outbreaks, we convened partners from around the world to consider lessons learnt from past outbreaks and drive change to ensure that we were better prepared to respond to future outbreaks.

“This workshop last October brought together international researchers from several disciplines – biomedical, social and environmental scientists – and made a convincing case that interdisciplinary research covering a wide research base will strengthen our ability to prepare for and respond to outbreaks.

“This is exemplified by our response to the current novel coronavirus, covid-19, epidemic that includes multidisciplinary research priorities from the outset, and benefits from our participation in global networks to ensure a coordinated research effort contributes to the overall response.”

The meeting was funded by the AMS, through the Global Challenges Research Fund, and the MRC.


  • Categories: Research
  • Health categories: Infection
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  • Type: News article