10 million euro for One Health research in the Netherlands

Published: 12 June 2019

Coming five years, Erasmus MC, together with partners from the Netherlands Centre for One Health, will investigate how the Netherlands can be better prepared for infectious diseases transmitted by mosquitoes. The Dutch Research Council (NWO) has awarded almost 9 million euro for this research. This amount has been supplemented to 10 million euro in contributions from seven collaborating public organisations. The multidisciplinary character of the collaboration, in which citizen science will play a role, is unique.

Outbreaks of (new) infectious diseases in humans and animals are becoming more prevalent worldwide. That is due to various factors, such as international trade and travelling, population growth and climate change. In the Netherlands, a relatively large number of people, livestock and animals live near each other. In combination with our water-rich landscape and busy international trade and travel, it makes us vulnerable to outbreaks of infectious diseases.

Professor Marion Koopmans, virologist at Erasmus MC and one of the Scientific Directors of the Netherlands Centre for One Health: ‘Large disease outbreaks are thankfully quite rare. However, if such an outbreak occurs, we only investigate it from that moment onwards, which means we are always chasing after the facts. However, given our changing world, we need to be ready for more frequent infectious disease outbreaks, also in Europe. As the health of people, animals and the environment is interrelated, the most effective approach is to consolidate our strengths by collaborating with partners from different disciplines. By working together, we will be better prepared for the future.’

Figure; various global changes affect the human, animal, and environment ecosystem making new outbreaks of existing and new virus diseases possible.

Vector-borne diseases

The team will mainly focus on vector-borne diseases: infectious diseases transmitted by insects such as mosquitoes. As a result of climate change, exotic mosquito species are becoming more common in the Netherlands. But under the right conditions, mosquito species native to the Netherlands can transmit (tropical) viruses too. The recent outbreak of the usutu virus (the “blackbird disease”) among birds demonstrates the importance of early preparedness for such diseases. That applies not only to the Netherlands but also the Dutch Caribbean and the rest of Europe.

Vector-borne virus outbreak in the Netherlands can arise due to a combination of factors. Over the next five years, 25 PhD researchers will focus on four themes that influence the development of outbreaks due to changes;

  1. in the climate,
  2. in water management,
  3. in agricultural methods, and
  4. concerning international travel and import risks.

Through collaboration with researchers from the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), the Netherlands Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA), and the blood banks in the Netherlands and the Dutch Caribbean, the outcomes will be translated into measures to ensure we are better prepared for a possible disease outbreak. ‘Ultimately we want to develop a sort of “weather forecast” for the risk of outbreaks’, says Marion Koopmans.

The role of Deltares

“We are very happy with this collaboration,” says Eline Boelee. “Deltares develops sustainable solutions to deal with climate change, like expanding river flood plains and using natural water storage. But what are the implications of these measures for human health? In this comprehensive research, knowledge of all relevant disciplines is brought together. The outcome will help Deltares to include health aspects in the design of climate adaptation measures.”

Citizen science

During the research, the team will collaborate with various scientific entities and apply research results from other projects. Also, citizen science projects will be included: initiatives in which citizens and high school pupils are involved. For example, they will provide research data about birds, mosquitoes and water or use travel apps such as the Municipal Health Services’ “GGD reist mee” and the “ZIeKA-monitor“.

Partners

Coordination: Erasmus MC. Collaborative partners: Avans University of Applied Sciences, Leiden University Medical Center, Leiden University/Naturalis, Netherlands Institute of Ecology, Radboud University Medical Centre, University Medical Center Utrecht, Utrecht University, Wageningen University & Research. Co-funding partners: Deltares, National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM), Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI), Red Cross Blood Bank Foundation Curacao, Sanquin, Technasium Foundation, Centre for Monitoring of Vectors (CMV). International collaborating partner: Centre for Advanced Studies of Blanes (CEAB) a research institute within the Superior Council of Scientific Investigations (CSIC)

Netherlands Centre for One Health

NCOH is a collaboration of 9 Dutch academic research institutes focussing on One Health research. It aims to realise an integrated approach to the global risks of infectious diseases and to create sustainable solutions for major societal challenges in the areas of human, animal, and ecosystems health.