After seven years of diligent regional work, the phase 2 of ECOMORE project came to an end and the closing meeting was held from June 28th to 30th, 2023 at the TRIBE Hotel in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. As a Southeast Asian regional project launched in 2017, ECOMORE aimed to understand the impact of environmental and climate change on the health of populations in 5 countries: Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, the Philippines and Vietnam, while applying a “One Health” approach. The project focused on two infectious diseases linked to the environment: dengue which is vector borne, and leptospirosis, which can be transmitted by contact with water, soil, or food contaminated with the urine of infected animals. The closure of phase 2 of ECOMORE provides an opportunity to report on 6 years of work carried out by scientific teams in each targeted country and with a regional collaborative approach.
The closing meeting of ECOMORE 2 brought together the funder Agence Française de Développement (AFD), the coordinator, Institut Pasteur in Paris as well as partners, and national organization from South-East Asia: Institut Pasteur du Cambodge, Institut Pasteur du Laos ,the National Institute of Hygiene and Epidemiology (NIHE) of Vietnam, the National Health Laboratory (NHL) of Myanmar, the Research Institute for Tropical Medicine (RITM) of the Philippines, the French National Research Institute for Sustainable Development (IRD), as well as and the French Embassy in Cambodia in order to discuss the results of the project and look ahead a potential phase 3. A total of 74 participants attended this 3-day meeting physically or remotely.
On Wednesday June 28th, the opening ceremony started with speeches of H.E. Mr. Jacques Pellet, Ambassador of France to Cambodia, Mrs. Sandrine Boucher, Country Director of AFD, and Mrs. Maud Seguy, Head of Operations Unit of the International Affairs Department at Institut Pasteur. Following this ceremony, the meeting entered at the heart of discussion with the restitution of dengue components. Colleagues from Institut Pasteur du Cambodge, Institut Pasteur du Laos, and RITM reported on the entomological, virological and epidemiological approaches of the studies implemented and the associated results. The climate platform, developed by IRD and associating future climate scenarios and their impact on vector distribution, was also presented.
On Thursday June 29th, NIHE and NHL uncovered their conclusions regarding the leptospirosis components, and IRD described the model they used to create a platform, in short time, linking favorable environmental conditions with leptospirosis transmission in Yangon. As recipient of a generous COVID-19 Top-Up, the afternoon was also dedicated to the response of the regional network against the pandemic, and the lessons learned. To close the round of presentations, the transversality, knowledge transfer and communication aspects were also shared, in order to remind the rationale.
All in all, ECOMORE 2 has contributed to sustainably improving clinical diagnosis and laboratory confirmation of dengue fever and leptospirosis, to better identify and control them. In addition, based on meteorological models, the climate platform has been developed to allow a better visualization of future climate scenarios and their impact on the risk of dengue and leptospirosis transmission in the South Asian region according to future climate scenarios. These tools have made it possible to raise awareness among public health stakeholders and national authorities in partner countries of the utmost importance of considering the impact of climate change on health. Transversal activities between working groups ensured the collaborative dynamism between the partners and were achieved with regional trainings and regular progress meetings and workshops. Moreover, to allow the project to be implemented in a sustainable manner, the knowledge transfer platform generated a strong link with the national authorities and decision makers of each partner country. Trust and dialogue between researchers and policy makers was built through national stakeholders’ meetings and working groups, all while engaging them and enabling them to take ownership of the project efficiently. Another outcome of the project was to demonstrate to national partners and authorities the added value to consider environmental, animal and human data because of their deep interconnections to gain an overview of the changes to come.
Though ECOMORE chapter 2 is closed, a third phase is in the pipeline, and Friday June 30th was devoted to this perspective. Mrs. Sandrine Boucher reminded the importance collaborating closely together, and AFD’s wish to strengthen health security by supporting preparedness, notably with a One Health approach, in the Indo-Pacific region. As such, three emblematic health-related networks funded by AFD, namely SEGA OH (Indian Ocean), ECOMORE (Southeast Asia), and PPHSN (Pacific Ocean), will be linked together to implement, in addition to their core activities, transversal and complimentary activities throughout this region. After presentations of the One Health initiatives in South-East Asia, and the Quadripartite’s OH Joint Plan of Action, Dr. Harena Rasamoelina and Dr. Eric Rafai, representatives of respectively the SEGA OH and PPHSN networks, introduced their organizations and its missions. ECOMORE 3 proposal was then shared to the audience before an open discussion between all of the networks, and the team commissioned for the feasibility study of this new program.
ECOMORE partners then went on to discuss together about the work-in-progress phase 3’ core and regional activities during afternoon workshops, in order to exchange about health priorities in each collaborating country and common objectives that would make sense to investigate in the near future.