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RVC awarded funding to contribute to the global effort on COVID-19 health research

Through a collaborative project, researchers will co-design bespoke plans to reduce transmission of the virus in Sacaba, Bolivia and Huancayo, Peru

19 October 2020, at 12:00pm

A project, led by researchers at the RVC, which seeks to reduce COVID-19 transmission in traditional food markets in Bolivia and Peru, has today been awarded £749,735 of funding from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) and UK Research and Innovation (UKRI)’s Global Effort on COVID-19 Health Research call.

Through this project, researchers will co-design bespoke plans to reduce transmission of the virus in Sacaba, Bolivia and Huancayo, Peru, and will also share their experience and online resources to help facilitate similar efforts in other countries. Contributing researchers comprise the RVC, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia, Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos and Universidad Mayor de San Simon.

The chosen localities were identified by the researchers as priority targets given the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 and their ranking amongst the highest countries in the world for COVID-19 deaths. Further, while traditional food markets are a “hot bed” for the spread of COVID-19, they also play important economic and socio-cultural roles in most low and middle-income countries. Therefore, risk mitigation strategies must be equitable, culturally sensitive and sustainable.

Working in collaboration with local health services, the team, led by Javier Guitian, Professor of Veterinary Public Health at the RVC, will pilot a health promotion plan for market sellers and their families that includes early detection and follow-up of COVID-19 infections. Additionally, data gathered from these high-risk populations in the follow-up phase of the pilot will provide insights into pending questions regarding COVID-19, such as risk of reinfection.

While in its early stages, it is anticipated that this project will help introduce effective risk mitigation programs that also respect the role of traditional markets, which, in the current pandemic, have been stigmatised. By developing local capacity to protect populations with a high infection risk, this project will play an important role in the COVID-19 response while also helping inform strategies to tackle future public health emergencies.

Javier Guitian, Professor of Veterinary Public Health at the RVC, said:

“Bolivia and Peru have been severely hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. The more vulnerable sectors of the society have been affected, not only by the pandemic itself, but also by control measures such as school closures, strict lockdowns and collapse of health care services, which disproportionately affected those with fewer resources who largely rely on the informal economy and lack a safety net.

“In this project, scientists will work together with market sellers to identify ways of mitigating COVID-19 transmission that are not only effective but also sensitive to their needs and values and to the critical economic and sociocultural role of traditional food markets.”

Christine Leyns, Coordinator of the Noncommunicable Diseases Program and Member of the COVID-19 Advisory Board in the Municipality of Sacaba, Bolivia, said:

“COVID-19 struck Bolivia in the midst of a sociopolitical crisis following the October 2019 elections. After the positioning of an interim president, protests were forcefully suppressed, among others in Sacaba. Barely recovered from the income loss due to this conflict, on the 27 March Bolivia declared a national lockdown allowing only food vendors to work.

“Over two months of complete lockdown led to severe loss of income and purchasing power. Many market sellers consumed their reserves, making it impossible to acquire new merchandise. In addition, markets are seen as places of high risk of COVID-19 transmission. This is how the concept of healthy markets was born, to help reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission and to safeguard the sustainability of markets in Bolivia and Peru.”

Eloy Gonzales-Gustavson, Assistant Professor at Universidad Nacional Mayor de San Marcos and Researcher at Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia, said:

“Through this project, we want to understand and help local markets in cities from the Andean region, where there are a high proportion of people living with low incomes and were also seriously affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“During the quarantine in Peru, markets were the focus of transmission and the government did not know how to establish response strategies, resulting in one of the highest rates of infection and mortality. With this project, we hope to develop new and innovative strategies that would help address another outbreak of COVID-19 as well as future epidemics, and to establish this with the help of the local market sellers and scientists from the UK, Peru and Bolivia.”

Dr Lesong Conteh, Chair of the Funding Committee Global Effort on COVID-19 (GECO) Health Research funding call and Deputy Chair of the Independent Scientific Advisory Group for NIHR's Global Health Research Portfolio, said:

“Coronavirus does not respect borders, and the impact of the pandemic is being felt across the globe. These varied multidisciplinary new research projects will directly benefit people in low- and middle-income countries, provide learning opportunities globally, and complement NIHR and UKRI’s cross government approach to funding COVID-19 research in the UK."