PATH, a non-profit organisation working to develop and scale solutions to solve the world’s most pressing health challenges, is leading a series of research pilots in Malawi, Pakistan, Nepal and Indonesia to monitor the presence of COVID-19 in low-income populations and share that valuable data to inform governmental response plans.
PATH will use GIF’s grant to expand its use of Environmental Surveillance, or ES, which involves testing wastewater samples to detect pathogens. ES has been used successfully to monitor infectious diseases such as Polio and may be a powerful tool to control COVID-19 outbreaks as it can detect both symptomatic and asymptomatic cases in communities. ES also has the potential to complement national surveillance efforts in countries with limited capacity to test and trace.
Another key aim of this work is building a strong community of practitioners to bring together environmental surveillance researchers in low and middle income countries to promote knowledge and learning exchange, sharing of replicable models, and scaling in new geographies.
Importantly, PATH will also evaluate the cost-effectiveness of conducting ES and produce data which GIF expects to help drive future uptake of this innovation by public health authorities worldwide. While the early warning and monitoring of the epidemic is the most pressing need, ES can also potentially help track the evolution of the virus and the data can feed into programs for development of vaccines and assess the success of vaccination campaigns, which has already been successfully applied for the poliovirus immunization.
GIF has approved a grant of US$ 868,000 which together with a $2.6m grant from the Gates Foundation will be used to fund in-country research pilots on using Environmental Surveillance for COVID-19 detection in 5 low and lower-middle income countries. In addition, the funding will be used to establish a datacentre at the Michigan State University and for conducting and publishing a cost-effectiveness study on ES.
This environmental surveillance (of sewage systems and impacted surface waters) project will include data collection from four research pilots in Africa and the Indo Pacific and a dedicated center for curation and pooling of the data to support national and global COVID-19 monitoring and management plans.
GIF contracted and disbursed the initial funds at the end of December 2020 and the program has just commenced so there is no impact data to report yet.