Despite the many advances in the global fight against infectious diseases and the millions of lives saved by vaccines and other preventive and therapeutic methods, infections remain a major threat to humanity. COVID-19 has reminded us of the devastating effects that pandemics can have globally. Beyond the clear prominence of SARS-CoV-2, however, malaria, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and multidrug-resistant bacteria remain major causes of morbidity and mortality.
Last week saw the launch of Science4Pandemics (S4P), a new European project that will develop a digital platform to educate the public on the prevention and management of pandemics. Targeting the adolescent population in particular, the new project will use gamification and artificial intelligence (AI) as its main tools for enhancing the public’s understanding of this field. Moreover, individual and community-level data generated and interpreted via the digital platform will help to improve research, preparedness and management of future pandemics. This three-year project supported by EIT Health will be led by the Sant Joan de Déu Research Institute (IRSJD), in collaboration with the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal), a centre supported by the ”la Caixa” Foundation.
“Gamification is a very attractive approach for educating younger generations in the field of infectious diseases and pandemics,” commented Begonya Nafria, coordinator of the Patient Involvement in Research Area at the IRSJD and principal investigator on the project. “Currently, there is a clear disconnect between, on the one hand, the vast amount of information available on pandemics generally and COVID-19 in particular and, on the other, the acceptance and understanding of this information. We need to improve people’s knowledge about infectious diseases in order to adequately monitor the prevention and management of potential future pandemics.”
Among other aspects, the educational project will cover the infectious disease cycle, basic biology and clinical features of outbreak-prone infections. It will also raise awareness about pandemic prevention and management measures to prevent the health system from becoming overstretched and increase confidence in the safety and efficacy of vaccines.
“Faced with the avalanche of information available on the current pandemic, young people find it difficult to distinguish between scientifically sound and unsubstantiated information, which makes it difficult for them to get actively involved and follow prevention recommendations,” commented Quique Bassat, ICREA researcher at ISGlobal and co-researcher on the project. “Through a collaborative game, Science4Pandemics will offer an educational platform specifically tailored to this age group, thereby facilitating the participation of younger generations.”
Collaborative Pandemic Research
Science4Pandemics is a new way of empowering society through an educational initiative that will also provide real-world data for collaborative research on pandemics. Digital gamification helps citizens to learn efficiently, while at the same time enabling them to become active providers of data on a voluntary basis. The digital platform will use AI algorithms to collect data that will allow researchers to learn from ordinary citizens (e.g. about symptomatology, horizontal and vertical disease spread, strains and behaviours).
Science4Pandemics (S4P) is a multidisciplinary consortium coordinated by the IRSJD/Sant Joan de Déu Research Foundation that comprises various institutions from Spain, Portugal and Italy, including the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal), the University of Barcelona (UB), the University of Coimbra (UC), the Borja Institute of Bioethics (IBB), the Pedro Nunes Institute, the Fondazione Penta Onlus and its paediatric research network, the company Exheus and the pharmaceutical manufacturers Sanofi and GSK. In addition, this Europe-wide project will enjoy the active collaboration of UNICEF and the ”la Caixa” Foundation on educational and outreach activities.
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