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Bethan Purse and Juliette Young provide an update from the MonkeyFeverRisk project, a collaboration between UK and Indian researchers to investigate an emerging tick-borne haemorrhagic disease in India...

This week saw the first Stakeholder workshop of the MonkeyFeverRisk project. This research is funded by a Medical Research Council (MRC) Foundation Award from the £1.5bn Global Challenges Research Fund to understand how and why the deadly Kyasanur Forest Disease (KFD) is spreading in forest ecosystems in India. Our framing workshop brought together key disease managers and policy makers from State and District level in India and across animal and public health, forestry, and social welfare sectors.

The aim of this participatory workshop was to understand stakeholder needs for information and tools to combat Kyasanur Forest Disease, an emerging tick-borne zoonotic disease which is affecting forest communities in India. The workshop was particularly important because we are following a co-production approach that places stakeholders at the heart of the research and its outputs.

Though many models and risk maps are published and highly cited in the scientific literature, they are rarely used by disease managers on the ground. This may be because researchers tend to frame the research question according to their own knowledge, discipline and assumptions. These are often removed from the realities of day-to-day disease management.

Monkey Fever Risk project framing workshop participants

Cross-sectoral stakeholders and inter-disciplinary researchers involved in the MonkeyFeverRisk framing workshop.

One Health

Aligned with the global One Health Initiative, to ensure the practical application of the risk maps and guidance from our project, stakeholders were asked to identify key risk factors that make forest communities more susceptible to KFD, what are their needs for additional information or tools to support disease control strategies, and what a usable and practical decision support tool should look like. As researchers we were inspired by the generosity and active participation of so many important experts, especially while they are dealing with the public crisis caused by the heavy and early monsoon in south India.

Stakeholders at all levels stressed the need for greater advocacy to increase awareness of KFD in affected communities and for prioritisation of KFD in national policy, including improvement of diagnostic and vaccine technology and surveillance capacity. Immediately after the workshop, the project team got together to integrate their insights on risk factors into the research programme and address the needs of stakeholders, including the creation of a cross-sectoral One Health network on KFD. 

Monkey Fever Risk project workshop participants

Above: Finding out about what information and tools stakeholders need for KFD management

Field campaign

The project team is now preparing the field campaign for October 2018, which will take a snapshot of the human and ecological risk factors across affected areas, understanding for example which activities in the forest expose people to infected ticks and establish whether monkeys or other mammal reservoirs, like rodents, might facilitate transmission from ticks to humans. Other researchers are refining geographical models of risk areas to include the risk factors identified by the stakeholders.

The next steps in refining the tool being co-produced with these stakeholders will be a knowledge integration workshop in Spring 2019, and a validation workshop where we will test the value of the tool for improving management of KFD.

If you are a stakeholder or researcher in One Health or zoonotic disease and would like to join our One Health network, or simply find out a bit more information on the project and its approach, please get in touch with us by email on beth@ceh.ac.uk, slhoti@yahoo.com , or on Twitter @MonkeyFever_

The MonkeyFeverRisk project is supported by the Global Challenges Research Fund and funded by the MRC, AHRC, BBSRC, ESRC and NERC [grant number MR/P024335/1].

Additional information

CEH news: Tackling tick-borne diseases in India

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