A Massey One Health team, composed of researchers from Tāwharau Ora School of Veterinary Science and the Research Centre for Hauora and Health, has received funding from the Wellcome Trust to investigate the use of artificial intelligence in modelling the impact of climate change on zoonotic diseases, for the project CliZod (Climate-sensitive Zoonotic Diseases).
The team, led by Tāwharau Ora Senior Lecturer Dr Emilie Vallee, will explore how artificial intelligence methods, especially natural language processing, can be used to automatically extract then compile the evidence linking climate and disease in scientific literature. They will then create a database that can be used by scientists, policy-makers, clinicians and the general public all around the world.
Dr Vallee, who lives in Hawke’s Bay, says such a tool would have been very useful in the aftermath of Cyclone Gabrielle.
“It would have been extremely useful for clinicians and policy makers to have a place where they could search for evidence-based information on what diseases are likely to flare up after floods, and when and where to expect them. It would help with prevention, diagnostics and surveillance.”
The team is focussing on zoonotic diseases that can transmit between animals and humans. Up to 60 per cent of existing diseases and 80 per cent of emerging diseases are of animal origin, and many infectious diseases have an animal reservoir.
The One Health approach combines strengths and skills across disciplines and sectors to tackle these diseases. Following this philosophy, the team is composed of two veterinary epidemiologists – Dr Vallee and Research Officer Dr Masako Wada, Associate Professor Deborah Read and Professor Barry Borman of the Research Centre for Hauora and Health and consultant Masood Sujau from Halora Tech.
Dr Read and Professor Borman work on the Environmental Health Intelligence New Zealand program, while Dr Vallee and Dr Wada have previously worked together on a project funded by the Ministry of Primary Industries that explored the effects of climate change on the health of New Zealand livestock.
The United Kingdom-based Wellcome Trust is spending £22.7M on 24 new digital tools, including CliZod, to respond to the emerging threat of climate-sensitive infectious diseases.
The Wellcome Trust is a charitable foundation focused on health research and is tackling three worldwide health challenges: mental health, infectious disease and climate and health. Tools that use climate data to understand and predict climate-sensitive infectious diseases can help policymakers plan interventions and minimise the impact of these diseases on communities that are most at risk.
The tools developed in these awards will be the next step in responding to the emerging threat of climate-sensitive infectious diseases and help to improve infectious disease modelling.