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RISE researchers seconded to help pandemic response

5 May 2020

All around the world, workers from various sectors are being called upon to assist in the coronavirus response. Some of RISE’s global researchers have been seconded to co-ordinate responses in their own countries.

Here are some of their experiences.

Karin Leder (RISE Assessment Leader): advising on Australia’s path to recovery

On a normal day…
I sit on the RISE Executive and lead the Assessment arm of the program.

I’m an infectious disease physician and an infectious disease epidemiologist. In addition to my RISE research, for many years I have been researching the role that travellers play in the global spread of infection.

Before COVID-19, I'm not sure how many people thought that this work was a high priority, but I think people are seeing now how much of an interconnected world we live in. Health problems in one country are everybody's concern, and this has never been clearer than now.

In supporting COVID-19 efforts…
It has certainly been a busy time supporting COVID-19 research, clinical work to help testing on the frontlines, and some media engagement.

As part of theAustralian National COVID-19 Clinical Evidence Taskforce, we are writing the national guidelines for clinical management of patients with SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19). These are ‘living’ guidelines, updated with new research in near real-time in order to give reliable, up-to-the minute advice to clinicians providing frontline care in this unprecedented global health crisis.

I am also part of an eight-university taskforce advising the Australian Government on evidence-based, actionable steps to a ‘Roadmap to Recovery’ for Australia. I contributed to a review of the scientific evidence that can guide us in navigating the management of COVID-19, considering factors such as testing for infection, contact tracing of cases, public health restriction measures, border closures, and the likely timing for a vaccine.

Speaking to media has been a great opportunity to disseminate accurate information to the public, and on the clinical front working in a clinic to screen healthcare workers for SARS-CoV-2 infection with respiratory symptoms has equipped them to know whether it's safe for them to go back to work.

COVID-19 is having devastating effects, and I feel that with my training in clinical infectious diseases, infectious disease research and infectious disease epidemiology, it is my duty to "step up" and help in whatever small way I can.

John Openshaw: supporting a state response in the USA

On a normal day…
As part of the Human Health team on RISE, I'm involved in designing and implementing the ways we assess health in the informal settlements in Indonesia and Fiji.

I'm an infectious disease physician and also an epidemiologist; much of my work outside of RISE also deals with the detection and mitigation of emerging pathogens – things like SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19).

In supporting COVID-19 efforts…
I spent four weeks on the hospital wards caring for patients with COVID-19 as an infectious disease consultant. During that time I also helped launch the How We Feel Project, a platform to find COVID-19 hotspots, predict areas that could soon see spikes in cases, and help health agencies better respond to the pandemic. I've now joined the California State Health Department and am helping directly with California's response to the pandemic.

I'm currently leading the clinical team at the State Health Department: we are providing assistance and advice to local health departments and the state government; it's our job a to develop guidance for patient management, the effectiveness of interventions, and testing strategies.

There is so much to be done – once I start working, it has been hard to really think about anything else. I'm inspired by my colleagues who are working tirelessly to keep people healthy.

Ellen Higginson and the Dougan and Baker lab group: testing frontline staff and mapping the spread in the UK

On a normal day…
The University of Cambridge team works with the Wellcome Sanger Institute to support the genetic sequencing of human and environmental samples (from blood samples to soil and water samples) collected in RISE informal settlements.

In supporting COVID-19 efforts…
One of the critical requirements for the COVID-19 response is increased diagnostic testing for SARS-CoV-2 (the virus that causes COVID-19).

Steve Baker, myself and the lab team are supporting Public Health England by testing healthcare workers from Addenbrookes Hospital, and running multiple pathogen TAC diagnostics for patients from critical care units.

Gordon Dougan is involved in the COVID-19 Genomics UK Consortium – which is sequencing SARS-CoV-2 strains from across the UK to map changes in the viral genome and better understand how the virus is spreading.

The whole group has pulled together at this difficult time to try and make a difference in the fight against COVID-19. Even though many lab staff have given up nights and weekends to turn around tests in under 24 hours, knowing that the results can get clinical staff back to work, or stop asymptomatically infected staff from coming in to work and spreading the disease is incredibly motivating.

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