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Foresight project: Detection and Identification of Infectious Diseases

Joyce Tait

Affiliated staff:   Catherine Lyall   Jonathan Suk   Laura Meagher

November 29 2004 – November 29 2005

Aims and objectives

The Innogen team undertook the risk analysis which underpinned the UK Foresight project on the projected risks from infectious diseases of humans, animals and plants over 10 and 25 year time horizons, comparing three geographical regions: the UK, sub-Saharan Africa and China.

It drew on best available evidence to review and compare future risks using a common set of metrics to: identify the factors driving changes in risk; assess how the size and nature of risks are evolving; and indicate the range of plausible future patterns of risk, taking account of the needs and views of the wider stakeholder community.

Research methods

Over 300 experts from over 30 countries were consulted during the full Foresight project. A qualitative framework enabled us to organise and prioritise factors influencing the spread of infectious disease.

There were two research phases:

  • A preliminary scoping phase to develop an understanding of the most important issues and their interactions, to formulate the overall approach to the research and to plan the survey to be carried out in the second phase
  • A two-stage Delphi questionnaire-based survey of expert opinion on future risks in the UK and Africa, including a range of specially commissioned expert reviews.

Key findings

The challenge was to develop survey-based results that would be useful to decision-makers and would also be regarded as  useful and valid by scientific peer reviewers.  Results emphasised the importance of interactions among the drivers, sources and pathways of disease.  Using data collected from these expert sources we developed an algorithm-based tool for considering future disease risks and decision-making on the need for and use of detection, identification and monitoring (DIM) technology.  Decision-making in other areas may benefit from a similar modelling approach that allows a complex interdisciplinary risk situation to be broken down into more manageable elements. The innovative methodological approach developed for this project is thus of as much interest for future research in this area as are the outcomes of the survey itself.

Results for all six survey samples, for 2015 and 2030 are available via www.Foresight.gov.uk.

The survey shed light on the differences in economic and political context in Africa and the UK. Briefly, the highest perceived risks by 2030 related to:

  • New pathogens or new strains of existing pathogens arising through natural genetic change
  • Geographical extension of pathogens from within or outside the UK and Africa

In five of the six categories there was a perceived high risk of:

  • New diseases from other species reservoirs, including wild species reservoirs
  • Drug use leading to the emergence of drug-resistant disease organisms
  • An increase in disease due to a mean temperature increase in the range 0.5 to 2 degrees Celsius
  • Changes in disease sources were seen as important determinants of future risks in all six categories (plants, animals and humans; UK and Africa)
  • Changes in pathways were seen as much less important generators of disease risks across all categories.
  • For disease drivers many more were considered important in Africa than in UK

Publications

Tait, J., Meagher, L., Lyall, C., and Suk, J. (2006), Foresight. Infectious Diseases: preparing for the future. T2: Risk Analysis. Report to Office of Science and Innovation, London

Lyall, C., Suk, J. and Tait J. (2006), Foresight. Infectious Diseases: preparing for the future. T3: Expert Survey of the UK and Africa. Report to Office of Science and Innovation, London

Suk, J., Lyall, C. and Tait, J. (July 2007) Risk Analysis in the UK Foresight Programme on the Detection and Identification of Infectious Diseases, Innogen Working Paper

Suk, J., Lyall, C. and Tait, J. (submitted July 2007) Risk Analysis in the UK Foresight Programme on the Detection and Identification of Infectious Diseases, Innogen Working Paper

Further information

For further information contact Joyce Tait, joyce.tait@ed.ac.uk