COVID-19 Research Activities at Swiss TPH
Swiss TPH plays a unique role in the response to COVID-19. We collaborate with multiple institutions and organisations and share our knowledge of disease transmission, virology, intervention strategies and more. These collaborations have widespread benefits for individuals in both Switzerland and abroad.
Swiss TPH experts are contributing to the Swiss National COVID-19 Science Task Force, a national scientific advisory board set up specifically for the COVID-19 pandemic, and support Corona-Immunitas, a programme powered by the Swiss School of Public Health (SSPH+), which tests the proportion of people with antibodies to the corona virus in Switzerland.
On an international level, Swiss TPH joined the COVID-19 Clinical Research Coalition as one of 70 institutions to respond to COVID-19 in resource-poor setting.
Swiss TPH is carrying out the COVCO-Basel study, a long-term study on the effects of the coronavirus pandemic in the cantons of Basel-Stadt and Basel-Landschaft. The study contains both a digital survey that looks at the effects of COVID-19 on individual’s quality of life, such as mental health repercussions, as well as antibody testing (a seroprevalence study).
New Diagnostic Tools and Prophylactic Treatments
In the MistraL project artificial intelligence, chest X-ray and antigen-based diagnostic tests will be combined to enable and improve diagnosis of COVID-19 patients in low-income settings.
The aim of the DAVINCI project is to develop a simple, low-cost device that can detect antibodies against SARS-CoV-2, using saliva. The project seeks to identify individuals who have been previously infected with SARS-CoV-2 and to provide novel insights into the variations in the immune response to COVID-19. Both projects are financed by the Botnar Research Centre for Child Health Care (BRCCH).
Together with the University of Geneva, Swiss TPH is conducting an open-label cluster randomised trial, the COPEP trial, to assess the efficacy, safety and acceptability of same-day LPV/r-based post-exposure prophylaxis compared to standard of care for asymptomatic individuals exposed to individuals diagnosed with SARS-CoV-2.
As part of the NIIDS project, Swiss TPH and partners are developing a novel integrated infectious disease diagnosis and surveillance system to improve triage, diagnosis and management of diseases in migrants and refugees in Ethiopia. The project is assessing major healthcare needs, as well as setting up a platform to support the diagnosis and management of clinically relevant infectious diseases, including COVID-19. The NIIDS project also collects evidence on non-communicable diseases (NCDs), mental health, reproductive health, nutritional deficiencies and infectious diseases. The data serve as a basis to inform clinical guidelines, design interventions and validate novel versatile diagnostic platforms, such as a sophisticated digital urine sensor device for rapid disease severity assessment. The project is funded by the Stanley Thomas Johnson Foundation.
The MODCOVID project, financed by BRCCH, seeks to harness mathematical modelling and machine learning approaches to guide and optimize clinical and public health strategies in the emergency response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Epidemic models are essential tools to coordinate all aspects of the response to pandemics. Models can inform policy makers on strategies for vaccinations and testing, and trigger mitigation measure such as the ‘lockdowns’. Swiss TPH experts propose to use and further develop a well-established technology to simulate epidemics with considerably increased temporal and spatial resolution. The Agent-based Tracking of Disease Spread project is financed by the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) and a collaboration with the ETH Zurich, the University of Applied Sciences in Northwestern Switzerland (FHNW) and other partners.
The Swiss TPH Disease Modelling unit developed a new mathematical model – OpenCOVID – to compare multiple vaccine rollout scenarios with several phased relaxation strategies to explore the potential impact and interaction on the future dynamics of SARS-CoV-2 in Switzerland. They looked at when and how containment measures could be relaxed during different levels of a vaccine rollout to prevent or limit a potential surge in confirmed cases, hospitalisations, intensive care admissions and deaths. The model also took into account the impact of new variants, vaccine properties and vaccine hesitancy and was developed to support a range of current and future interventions to tackle the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic in Switzerland and abroad. OpenCOVID is funded by BRCCH and SNSF.
The need for effective COVID-19 treatments remains particularly acute, especially in sub-Saharan Africa where access to vaccines is still extremely limited. The ANTICOV clinical trial, which is consortia led by DNDi with partners including Swiss TPH, aims to identify one or two treatments that could be used to treat mild and moderate cases of COVID-19, to stop the disease from getting more serious. The goal of the study is to find a treatment to help avoid mass hospitalizations in African health systems with limited intensive care facilities. If successful, it will also have important implications for other regions.
Understanding Public Perception of the Coronavirus
PubliCo is an experimental online platform for COVID-19 related public perception financed by the Swiss National and Science Foundation SNSF. PubliCo is developing a tool that helps tackle the “infodemic” manifested in the COVID-19 context. With this tool, the aim is to foster effective and tailored risk and crisis communication for combating misinformation, stigma, and fear. The project is led by the Institute of Biomedical Ethics and History of Medicine (IBME) at the University of Zurich. Swiss TPH is responsible for the citizen science component where people report on their COVID-19-related experiences.
Governing Systemic Crises in the 21st Century
In collaboration with the Global Studies Institute of the University of Geneva, Swiss TPH researchers aim to assess the initial impact of and responses to the current COVID-19 systemic crisis from an interdisciplinary perspective combining insights from public health, economics and law. In particular, the project seeks to understand how different European countries cope, adapt and transform in the face of systemic disruptions such as those caused by the rapid dissemination of COVID-19 across Europe.
In the EU-funded CORESMA project, Swiss TPH is leading the implementation research to analyse effects of surveillance and containment measures through SORMAS and to tailor effective and efficient control measures to health systems realities in Nepal and Côte d'Ivoire. Combining e-health, serolomics, modelling, artificial intelligence and implementation research, CORESMA aims to close existing gaps between clinical, epidemiological and immunological information in order to better respond to the pandemic.
The EXPAND project aims to expanding neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) and COVID-19 surveillance and control to mobile pastoralists in Chad through the establishment of integrated surveillance and access to health information and services. It also works towards the prevention and treatment of COVID-19 and NTDs in the mobile pastoralist populations. Funding is provided by the ASCEND Learning and Innovation Fund, sponsored by FCDO (previously DfID).
Supporting Our Partners
In many of our existing projects, we have increased the focus of our activities towards the prevention and control of COVID-19.
Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation Projects
The Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) is supporting the re-allocation of funds within existing projects that are implemented by Swiss TPH in Africa, Central Asia and Eastern Europe to assist in the public health response to the COVID-19 crisis. Activities range from the creation of a national call centre, procurement, distribution and training on the use of personal protective equipment, to setting up a diagnostics laboratory, training of PHC workers on remote consultations and communications work to dispel fake news. Local Public Authorities and the social sector are engaged to ensure assistance for the most vulnerable, and numerous interventions were adapted to the requirements of physical distancing. The project countries include Tanzania, Moldova, Kosovo, Albania, Tajikistan, Ukraine, Ethiopia and Chad in which Swiss TPH has been working for many years and maintains long-term partnerships.
In addition, a new project in Rwanda was launched by SDC and implemented by Swiss TPH to improve the capacity of community health workers to inhibit, detect and respond to COVID-19.
Rapid Assessment of World Bank COVID-19 Projects
The World Bank supports around 100 country responses to COVID-19 through loans and grants totalling over USD 6 billion. Funding is based on the Multi-phase Programmatic Approach (MPA) model or through restructuring existing projects. Swiss TPH was mandated to assess how far the COVID-19 projects under the MPA framework have reached their overarching objective to contribute to prevention, detection and response to COVID-19, and strengthen national health systems.
Support to the Global Fund
The Global Fund is providing an immediate funding of USD 500 million to help countries fight COVID-19. As part of its 14 mandates from the Local Fund Agent, Swiss TPH is currently reviewing revised detailed budgets and protocols, relevance and effectiveness of savings identified by countries, as well as detailing assumptions of new COVID-19 related activities, best value for money investments, and conducting short local surveys on quality and price of protection equipment.
Conferences and Seminars
AbouZahr C et al. The COVID-19 pandemic: effects on civil registration of births and deaths and on availability and utility of vital events data. Am J Public Health. 2021;111(6):1123-1131. DOI: 10.2105/AJPH.2021.306203
Aebi N.J et al. Can big data be used to monitor the mental health consequences of COVID-19?. Int J Public Health. 2021;66:633451. DOI: 10.3389/ijph.2021.633451
Beloconi A, Probst-Hensch N, Vounatsou P. Spatio-temporal modelling of changes in air pollution exposure associated to the COVID-19 lockdown measures across Europe. Sci Total Environ. 2021;787:147607. DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2021.147607
Ehrenberg J.P et al. Efforts to mitigate the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic: potential entry points for neglected tropical diseases. Infect Dis Poverty. 2021;10(1):2. DOI: 10.1186/s40249-020-00790-4
Ehrenberg N et al. Neglected tropical diseases as a barometer for progress in health systems in times of COVID-19. BMJ Glob Health. 2021;6:e004709. DOI: 10.1136/bmjgh-2020-004709
Fink G et al. Inactivated trivalent influenza vaccination is associated with lower mortality among patients with COVID-19 in Brazil. BMJ Evid Based Med. 2021;26(4):192-193. DOI: 10.1136/bmjebm-2020-111549
AlKhaldi M, Kaloti R, Shella D, Al Basuoni A, Meghari H. Health system's response to the COVID-19 pandemic in conflict settings: policy reflections from Palestine. Glob Public Health. 2020;15(8):1244-1256. DOI: 10.1080/17441692.2020.1781914
Ehrenberg J.P, Zhou X.N, Fontes G, Rocha E.M.M, Tanner M, Utzinger J. Strategies supporting the prevention and control of neglected tropical diseases during and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. Infect Dis Poverty. 2020;9:86. DOI: 10.1186/s40249-020-00701-7
Hassell J.M et al. Africa's nomadic pastoralists and their animals are an invisible frontier in pandemic surveillance. Am J Trop Med Hyg. 2020;103(5):1777-1779. DOI: 10.4269/ajtmh.20-1004
Zinsstag J, Utzinger J, Probst-Hensch N, Shan L, Zhou X.N. Towards integrated surveillance-response systems for the prevention of future pandemics. Infect Dis Poverty. 2020;9:140. DOI: 10.1186/s40249-020-00757-5