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Lost in Translation: Cross - disciplinary analysis of knowledge exchange and effectiveness in animal disease management

Project: Funded ProjectResearch

1/07/0830/11/11

Objectives
The aim of this project is to develop more integrated strategies of containment for animal disease through a cross-disciplinary research team bringing together expertise in public health, sociology, microbiology, epidemiology and veterinary science, environmental science and medical statistics. Current strategies to contain animal disease are very controversial and often in the limelight in terms of human health risk. The rural economy usually bears the brunt of poor or inappropriate strategies to contain the spread of animal disease risk. Worryingly, for those communities affected, it is not always clear that we have learnt from past mistakes such as the conflict in scientific opinion on vaccination vs. culling during the Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) epidemic of 2001.

Strategies of containment of animal disease vary in scale and scope, from containing infected animals (e.g. FMD), to containing animal to human transmission (e.g. bird flu). They usually require quick decisions to be made as the risk of disease spreads, and as new information becomes available. We are interested in the scientific knowledge upon which such decisions are made. We are particularly concerned that because our knowledge is partial such decisions are uncertain and there is a high risk of getting things wrong. This is both because different research disciplines do not always share ideas or approaches, and because the science community is not always good at translating this knowledge into policy advice. We will focus on three major disease areas: FMD, water-borne disease and avian flu. We will work closely with our stakeholder partners who include the public health department in United Utilities plc and the Veterinary Laboratories Agency - the government agency charged with undertaking animal disease surveillance. The research team brings together researchers from Lancaster University, the Centre for Ecology and Hydrology and Liverpool University. Much of the research focus will be in northwest England, which was particularly hard hit by FMD and long-term pressures on land use related to Cryptosporidiosis.

Our project will draw primarily on existing data sets held by the research team or provided by our stakeholder partners and others. This is so that we can make rapid progress in the project across a range of diseases and focus on cross-disciplinary research rather than detailed monitoring of a single disease in a specific area. Our approach will include a critical examination of models of disease containment. We will apply Bayesian statistical approaches so that we can effectively incorporate the expert knowledge we will glean through team-working and through interviews with leading scientists and policy makers, together with the focus groups and workshops we will run during the course of the project. The output will be a cross-disciplinary approach to strategies of containment that will address two main issues: (1) Why particular technical advances have been adopted and not others in the deployment of strategies of containment, and (2) How complexity and uncertainty in models of animal disease outbreaks and their containment can be improved so that the social, technological and natural dynamics of animal disease problems are better understood.