Strengthening infectious disease preparedness and outbreak control in the Asia and Pacific regions

Two closely linked research consortia based at the Doherty Institute are strengthening preparedness and improving capacity to tackle infectious disease outbreaks in the Asia and Pacific regions.

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SPARK (Strengthening Preparedness in the Asia–Pacific Region through Knowledge) and SPECTRUM (Supporting Participatory Evidence generation to Control Transmissible diseases in our Region Using Modelling) were designed to be flexible and responsive, to build capacity to detect and respond to infectious diseases.

Over the past year, these programs have proven their operating capacity to mobilise the consortia expertise in response to COVID-19 and their ability to respond to challenges in a flexible and efficient manner.

Led by Director of Doherty Epidemiology, University of Melbourne Professor Jodie McVernon, both SPARK and SPECTRUM will have a significant impact on how the Asia and Pacific regions can prepare and respond to infectious diseases outbreaks.

“There is a disproportionate burden of infectious diseases in impoverished areas, which persists because of social and environmental factors, weak health systems and infrastructure,” says Professor McVernon.

“A key challenge for managing infectious diseases is that endemic and epidemic infectious diseases occur over vastly different timeframes. There is no one-size-fits-all approach or solution.

“Modelling and decision-science approaches provide useful frameworks in the development process to address this challenge.”


In 2020, SPECTRUM and SPARK collaborators participated in international modelling networks coordinated by the World Health Organization (WHO) to rapidly share and synthesise new information about SARS-CoV-2.

In addition, they generated new data and worked with partners in Australia and internationally to develop new insights relevant to understanding transmission of COVID-19 and its optimal control.

SPECTRUM collaborators informed high-level decision making in Australia relating to the public health response to COVID-19, with engagement on projects led by the Public Health Laboratory Network, the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, the Department of Health and in close collaboration with the National Cabinet.

These projects included scenario preparedness modelling, which informed preparedness efforts to expand clinical and public health sector capacity, border risk assessments relating to quarantine recommendations and travel advisories, remote community preparedness and modelling for laboratory testing capacity.

SPARK collaborators were engaged in various activities to increase capacity and knowledge in the Asia–Pacific region.

Most notably, collaborators were involved in modelling projects for the WHO Western Pacific Regional Office for eight Pacific Island countries, supporting Papua New Guinea’s COVID-19 response in collaboration with the Medical and Scientific Advisory Committee, emergency support for French Polynesia’s response to COVID-19 and scenario modelling in Malaysia and the Philippines.

SPARK is funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs Trade’s ASEAN-Pacific Infectious Diseases Detection and Response program as part of the Indo-Pacific Centre for Health Security, and is a consortium of research institutes from around Australia and the Asia–Pacific region, including Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand.

SPECTRUM is a Centre of Research Excellence funded by the Australian Government National Health and Medical Research Council.

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