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Infections '21. Transmission Control of Infections in the 21st Century

As the Coronavirus pandemic dramatically shows, infections can have severe consequences worldwide. The Leibniz Research Alliance "Infections '21" was founded in 2015 with the goal of studying ways to better control, prevent and fight infectious illnesses and has swiftly adapted to the Covid-19-related challenges. The GIGA is a founding member of this alliance and deals with the access to medicines and vaccines as well as health as a global public good.
Leibniz Association, 2015-2021

Cooperation Partners

Dr. Julian Eckl

Research Questions

Infectious diseases can be spread and transferred to humans in many ways. A holistic approach is required to better understand transmission and to achieve optimal infection control strategies. Biomedical, ecological, socio-economic and political aspects all need to be considered. "Infections '21" consists of fifteen Leibniz institutes with different backgrounds. It is coordinated by the Research Center Borstel.

Contribution to International Research

The aim of the "Infections '21" Leibniz Research Alliance is to establish a culture of interdisciplinary research and communication across disciplines, thereby developing new strategies and methods for early warning systems, including with public participation, improved outbreak management and optimized containment of the spread of pathogens. In order to achieve these goals, exemplary research projects are continuously identified, which are processed by the pooled expertise of the participating Leibniz Institutes and selected, external partners.

Research Design and Methods

During the first funding period, GIGA researchers conducted the project "Control of Infections: Perception of Risks and Political Agenda for Providing a Public Good", contributing to the alliance's Interdisciplinary Research Group on Human2Human-Transmission. They investigated whether political commitment and innovative efforts in this field respond to cycles of public attention related to the outbreak and assumed risk of epidemics. Their work was linked to various activities of international cooperation (among others with two colleagues from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine) and introduced a perspective of policy field analysis in international discourses so far dominated by biomedical and public health discourses. The approach links up with a growing volume of research on global public goods for health (see: work by Richard D. Smith and Ilona Kickbusch), applying the concept to the field of infection control. In 2019, projects around a new focus on antibiotic/antimicrobial resistance (AMR) have been started; GIGA cooperates with the Bernhard-Nocht-Institute for Tropical Medicine (BNITM) in an analysis of the implementation of National Action Plans on AMR in African countries.

The second strand of research is access to medicines and vaccines. This research was expanded with regard to COVID-19 in summer 2020. Together with the BNITM, the GIGA will investigate whether the international commitment to a fair distribution of a future COVID-19 vaccine is going to be met and if low and middle income countries will have the same access to new effective therapies against Sars-CoV-2 as other countries. The research will follow a two-pronged approach: The GIGA will monitor at the global level whether commitments to equitable access to COVID-19 health products are being met and how different actors influence the global debate and developments on future access to medicines. The BNITM will analyze at the national level whether and how Ghana, as a low to middle income country, is taking measures to gain access to possible future vaccines and medicines.

Preliminary Findings

Research of the first funding phase has confirmed the link between attention to the threat of infectious diseases due to outbreaks of diseases and political reactions and political commitment in some cases. This was shown for Ebola (West-African crisis and the reaction of the international community), and Tuberculosis (migration and the again growing incidence of Tuberculosis in Western Europe). On the contrary, outbreaks of legionellosis produced a rather short-lived attention which appears to be not sufficient for attaining effective political regulations.