Flinders University’s Torrens Resilience Institute (TRI) has been working with the World Health Organisation, as its designated Collaborating Centre for Mass Gatherings and Global Health Security, in light of the COVID-19 response.
Matthew Flinders Distinguished Professor and TRI Director Paul Arbon shares an insight into the work of the institute in its collaborations with WHO and what the research priorities are as a result of the pandemic.
Q: What is some of the key work the TRI has been involved in with WHO around the COVID-19 pandemic?
A: The TRI hosts one of two World Health Organisation Collaborating Centres for Mass Gatherings and Global Health Security in the world; the other is within Public Health England.
Our role is to assist WHO Headquarters staff with the development and translation of evidence-based practices concerning major public events, including the large sporting and religious events and the emerging global health security issues such as novel infectious disease outbreaks (such as COVID-19) or deliberate events using chemical or biological weapons.
Q: How was this changed the focus of the TRI and its researchers?
A: COVID-19 has naturally caused this work to focus, as global events have been postponed and other crowed places closed to prevent the spread of the infection through populations. Much of our work during this time has been consultative, contributing to the development of risk assessments, mitigation measures, coordination arrangements and advice and working with WHO regions and sporting and religious leadership to customise arrangements to fit the needs of these groups.
Q: What are some of the emerging research priorities for WHO?
A: In addition to the need for research into vaccines and effective treatment options, WHO has been focused on improving our understanding of the mechanisms of spread of the infection and effective mitigation measures, particularly at the population level. To this end much of our work has been focused on understanding what mitigation and prevention measures might be most effective at major events and in crowded places. These include issues such as crowd density, crowd flow through venues, characteristics and vulnerability of the participants/audience and the like and the effect of venue strategies including cleaning, security, messaging and so on.
Q: What opportunities does this present to TRI researchers and researchers throughout the College of Nursing and Health Sciences?
A: There is very little known about effective preventative health measures in public spaces, apart from the well-known and well understood physical distancing and hand washing measures. We understand what measures make sense to deploy, and how these measures work, but we know little about whether they are effective when used in crowded situations. There are opportunities for research work to inform the safe operation of crowded places especially those frequented by more vulnerable members of our community. This includes in aged care facilities, hospitals and other places such as shopping malls. Nurses and other health care workers have a key role to play in this research especially because outbreaks of novel and emerging infectious diseases will continue.