New Mini-Grant Opportunity: Timeliness of Outbreak Detection

In cooperation with the Skoll Global Threats Fund, we are pleased to announce the opportunity to submit mini grant proposals for a study to measure the time required for detection and control of infectious disease outbreaks. Up to five mini grants will be awarded, with a maximum of one submission allowed per country. We encourage program coordinators, resident advisors and staff to work with residents and graduates to develop a proposal that will feature contributions from multiple participants.

Purpose & Background 

Modern air travel creates the possibility for infectious diseases to spread from one side of the world to another in less than twenty-four hours. In order to combat the rapid spread of newly emerging pathogens as well as endemic disease, the public health community must leverage digital communications technology to find outbreaks faster and reduce their potential for pandemic spread. Many believe that improvements in disease surveillance and communications, particularly the development of event-based surveillance systems such as ProMED-mail, HealthMap, and the Global Public Health Intelligence Network (GPHIN), can help to detect early signs of outbreaks and reduce the time to detection of outbreaks.

In 2010 Chan et al., including collaborators from HealthMap of Boston’s Children Hospital and the Program for Monitoring Emerging Diseases (ProMED-mail), with funding from Google.org and the National Institutes of Health, published the first study aimed at measuring the time elapsed between the start of an infectious disease outbreak and its detection by the public and relevant health authorities. Chan et al. used the World Health Organization’s (WHO) Disease Outbreak News (DON) to assemble a database of outbreaks that occurred worldwide between 1996 and 2009, supplementing that information with data from the ProMED-mail, HealthMap, and Global Public Health Intelligence Network (GPHIN) surveillance systems. The study found that the median time between outbreak start and outbreak discovery decreased from 29.5 days in 1996 to 13.5 days in 2009, while the median time between outbreak discovery and public communication about the outbreak decreased from 40 days to 19 days over the same time period. While trends and results varied across WHO regions and the study had several limitations, it was an important step in measuring the world’s ability to detect outbreaks faster.

With a global perspective, Chan et al. only focused on “diseases of international importance” and thus relied on a WHO dataset that included few or no data points for many countries around the world. In order to develop a more detailed assessment of how the public health community is progressing towards faster outbreak detection, we propose that programs interested in improving timeliness of outbreak detection conduct a project aimed at assessing their progress in detecting outbreaks early. Field Epidemiology Training Programs (FETP) are well-positioned to reproduce similar study methods and apply them to their own country.

Several advantages of this approach include:

  • FETPs have access to local media sources and can examine reports in local languages - this can provide additional information and context to outbreak timelines.
  • FETPs have access to government data used to establish outbreak timelines.
  • Increased access to local, regional and national data may result in a larger number of outbreaks for analysis in each country.
  • FETP trainees will gain further experience using event-based surveillance tools such as ProMED-mail, HealthMap, and GPHIN to establish and confirm the time to detect and report an outbreak.
  • This study will allow countries to establish methods for accurately determining baseline measurements from which they can track improvement over time and potentially identify areas to target resources to reduce the time required to detect outbreaks.
  • Measuring the local, regional or national baselines will contribute towards country progress in implementing the 2005 International Health Regulations (IHR), which took effect in 2007.

Program Support:
Principal investigators must include a letter of support from the FETP Program Director or Resident Advisor demonstrating their support for the project and willingness to provide assistance as needed. Trainees submitting proposals are encouraged to include the FETP Resident Advisor as a co-Principal Investigator. We encourage proposals to include multiple FETP trainees as the workload may exceed what is reasonable for one person.

Data Availability: 
There may be opportunity for results to be published in a peer-reviewed journal. Applicants should strive to make aggregate data used in the study available for review by the TEPHINET community.

Online Training: 
All FETP contributors to the study will be asked to complete two brief online training modules focused on digital and informal disease surveillance systems. Further information will be made available once funds are awarded.

Award Information: 

  • Up to five awards will be given (a country program will receive no more than one award). Applicants will be required to submit a proposed budget, detailing expected expenditures related to the project. It is anticipated that total budgets will fall in the range of $5,000-10,000 USD depending on the project.
  • Projects life cycle should be limited to no more than a year depending on complexity of activities.

Application Process:
Please limit the Letter of Intent to no more than 2 pages, single-spaced. Letters of Intent should be submitted online at this link by January 15, 2016. Letters of intent should include: A succinct description of the intended project, including major activities, names and titles of key project staff, and your desired objectives.

Individuals selected to submit a full proposal will be notified by February 1, 2016.

Final proposals from invited authors must be submitted online (link TBD) by February 19, 2016. Final proposals should be written in English, no more than 10 pages, single-spaced, including appendixes, provide references and citations when appropriate. Award recipients will be announced by March 1, 2016. As stated above, projects should be completed within 12 months and a final report of the activities should be submitted upon completion.

Please note that we will only accept letters of intent and proposals in English. If you have any questions about how to submit the application online, please email Tina Rezvani at trezvani [at] taskforce [dot] org. Questions regarding the proposal itself can be directed to Connie Norris at, cnorris [at] taskforce [dot] org.

You must create an account at www.tephinet.org and be logged in to access the application forms.