MCDS Research Fellow and team awarded for Excellence in Engagement - Partnerships

Congratulations to Dr Chris Baker and team for their Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences Award for Excellence in Engagement - Partnerships.

Faculty of Medicine, Dentistry and Health Sciences (MDHS) holds an annual Staff Excellence Awards intended to recognise academic and professional teams and individuals at all levels across the diverse Faculty, the suite of annual excellence awards celebrates MDHS staff, not only for what they have achieved, but also for how they have demonstrated the Faculty's core values.

Melbourne Centre for Data Science (MCDS) Research Fellow Dr Chris Baker along with our colleagues Professor Jodie McVernon, Professor James McCaw, Dr Nic Geard, Dr Rob Moss, Dr Freya Shearer, Dr David Price, Dr Patricia Campbell, Dr Eamon Conway, Nefel Tellioglu Cetinkaya, Associate Professor Nick Golding and Dr Rebecca Chisholm have received the MDHS Award for Excellence in Engagement—Partnerships Award.

This award recognises the creation of a new or nurturing of an existing partnership with industry, the professions, governments or communities to either a) focus, enrich and translate engaged research or b) develop innovative, engaged teaching and learning of public relevance.

The group received the award for their work "Modelling for pandemic preparedness and response", which includes multiple projects.

Mathematical modelling led by researchers from FMDHS has informed pandemic preparedness and response policy in Australia and our region over the past fifteen years. Methodological approaches and trust relationships underpinning this engagement were rapidly reactivated in January 2020 and pivoted towards generation of models to support strategy for and operational response to COVID-19. Project leads Professors Jodie McVernon and James McCaw were embedded as expert advisers within national public health and policy advisory committees. These appointments facilitated identification of key questions that might be assisted by modelling and enabled iterative development of fit for purpose frameworks through direct communication with public health and policy leaders, including Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer(s) and jurisdictional Chief Health Officers. They have overseen Commonwealth Department of Health commissioned COVID-19 modelling undertaken by a nationally distributed consortium of researchers established through successive NHMRC Centres of Research Excellence focused on policy relevant modelling. In addition, their team has been funded by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to provide technical assistance to the Medical and Scientific Advisory Committee advising PNG’s Joint COVID-19 Task Force and to support other countries in the Asia-Pacific Region, working in partnership with the World Health Organisation’s Western Pacific Regional Office.

Dr Chris Baker's participation sits in the work funded by DFAT, as explained below.

Commencement of the SPARK consortium in early 2020 allowed DFAT to call on an existing
group of experts to support preparedness activities across the Asia-Pacific region: A SPARK team including Jodie McVernon, Drs Rob Moss, Nic Geard and Freya Shearer
provided early scoping assessments of likely COVID-19 disease burden and impact in
March 2020 to 14 focus countries distributed across the Asia-Pacific through DFAT country
contacts. Parameters were based on understanding of transmissibility and severity of SARS CoV-
2 at that time.

In June/July these early reports were updated for eight Pacific Island Countries at WHO WPRO’s request by an expanded team involving Drs Trish Campbell, Chris Baker and Eamon Conway. These models incorporated country specific features including age and household structure and population mixing profiles, in relation to urban and rural dwelling populations. Clinical pathway models that included the impacts of underlying risk conditions on disease severity were used to estimate likely health systems requirements following relaxation of social restrictions and border measures.

DFAT also supported SPARK’s engagement by the Medical and Scientific Advisory Committee (MeSAC) to the PNG Joint Task Force to provide advice as needed on COVID-19 preparedness and response activities. An expanded team from Melbourne (Jodie McVernon, Drs Baker, Conway, and Geard), WEHI (Prof Ivo Mueller) and Burnet Institute (A/Prof Leanne Robinson) provided advice on potential health impacts of COVID-19 using the same approach employed for the PIC modelling. This work contributed to review of PNG’s State of Emergency declaration and requirement for ongoing measures under the National Pandemic Act. In response to a recent increase in COVID-19 case numbers in PNG, further modelling is ongoing to support sub-national preparedness and response, in consultation with the MeSAC and country partners.

Further detail on this team's mulitfaceted work can be found through MDHS.

From all of us at MCDS, congratulations to the team!