In response to David L. Heymann, Joanne Liu, and Louis Lillywhite’s Perspective Partnerships, Not Parachutists, for Zika Research, published in the New England Journal of Medicine on 9 March 2016, we would like to inform the outbreak research and public health community that ISARIC (International Severe Acute Respiratory and emerging Infection Consortium) has been building the called for research partnerships since its establishment in 2011.
Taking Zika as an example of our ability to produce fruitful partnerships, ISARIC entered ‘Zika response mode’ having been alerted to the needs of clinical researchers on the Brazilian frontline during ISARIC’s Stakeholders’ meeting in London in November 2015. Dr Fernando Bozza (Fiocruz), who is an ISARIC member and regional representative for the Americas on the ISARIC Executive Committee, informed us of the need to act quickly, and our Zika-specific partnership building activity started at once.
Fortunately, for this outbreak ISARIC has very well established links to the region, and the Brazilian research community has the capability to provide a response, given the capacity. The capacity, in this case, is determined by the availability of research funding, serological tests, and suitable research tools.
To address these needs, ISARIC, alongside WHO and other partners set up what has turned into a series of weekly teleconference calls that have enabled us to facilitate the partnerships and collaboration necessary between research networks and individual researchers working in or with the affected countries. This effort, which was conducted in collaboration with PREPARE Europe, has enabled us to develop research tools such as a series of Case Report Forms that aim to encourage clinical researchers to collect at least a minimal data set related to ZIKV infection. These tools, alongside other Zika-related information for clinicians and clinical researchers in the affected countries, have been made freely accessible on a purpose built website hosted on the Global Health Network.
Our partnership building effort has connected partners who are actively seeking funding to address some of the identified research priorities, for instance through the Zika Rapid Response funding call provided by the Medical Research Council UK, and the European Commission Zika funding call that is going to be published on the 15th of March.
Parachuting in research capacity and capability is not a sustainable solution and we firmly believe that due emphasis should be put towards building partnerships and encouraging capacity development in regions or countries that lack the necessary infrastructure or capacity to respond efficiently to outbreaks. Through our joint initiative with InFACT (International Forum for Acute Care Trialists) – SPRINT SARI, our currently recruiting global observational study for severe acute respiratory diseases, is engaging researchers in LMICs and facilitating the building of networks. It is efforts such as these that are likely to prepare the research community for future outbreaks.
The only reason ISARIC investigators parachuted in research capacity during the West African Ebola Virus Disease Outbreak was that there was not only a lack of pre-existing partnerships, but also a lack of research capacity and capability in countries where the clinical frontline had their hands full in providing the clinical response and saving lives. While on the ground, all trials run by ISARIC investigators sought to build local research capacity to the extent possible. We do not want to end up in this situation again, and we are working hard during the inter-pandemic period to make sure we do not.