I pop in today after too long an absence to take care of the website and the blog I have neglected in the last few months. After 18 months in Stockholm, Sweden, I have now moved back to the UK to start a new position with the Animal and Plant Health Agency. I won’t go into details about the radical changes in both my personal and professional circumstances…as John Lennon once famously said, “life is what happens when you are busy making other plans”. The last 4 months have been hectic organising a family move half-way across Europe and settling in in a new house and workplace, but it finally feels like we’ve gone through to the other side now, relatively unscathed.
Since May 1st, I have been working as a statistician for the National Wildlife Management Centre in Sand Hutton. My role is to provide statistical advice, support and consultancy to the formulation and implementation of a range of DEFRA policies. My projects cover critical areas such as bovine tuberculosis control in wildlife, parasitology and invasive species management.
Now based in Yorkshire, I will continue being available as a biostatistician and animal health consultant although my time availability will be much reduced, fitting extra hours around my full-time job, and the tasks cannot be a conflict of interest with my current (government) employer. You can still contact me the usual way. If I am not in a position to help you, I likely know someone who can!
The structure and content of this website may also change in the next few months to reflect the changes in my professional circumstances. I am currently busy editing the proceedings from the AHEAD2017 meeting with the journal Frontiers in Veterinary Science, but I will get to work on the website once they are published.
Before going back to my day job, I’d like to thank all the wonderful people who accompanied me during the launch and first phase of Epi-Connect. Many new professional connections were made and I got to work on some really cool projects. It has, so far, been an Epi-C journey on both a personal and professional level! I don’t know yet what the second phase of Epi-Connect will hold for me, but
All journeys have secret destinations of which the traveler is unaware (Martin Buber).
Sinead Quealy from VirtualVet and I have recently returned from a fantastic few days in Exeter where we ran our two days AHEAD workshop on the “roadmap to the digitisation of animal health data” with a focus on drug usage in food-producing animals. You can go here to read more about our joint vision for organising this workshop.
A good balance was achieved too in terms of the background of the participants.
Prof. Toby Mottram from eCow (UK) officially opened the workshop.
To try and create this picture, the structure of the 2 days was very much aligned with the magic triangle for business models: Why? What? and How?
The “why” of animal health data digitisation
The “why” of animal health data digitisation was made very obvious by Dr Barbara Han, a disease ecologist with the US Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies. She argued that the hard limits of outbreak predictions are not set by technological innovations but that data is the frontier. Data-driven early warning systems for diseases are technologically possible & investment worthy. Still need convincing? Read her latest work on undiscovered bat hosts of filoviruses and implications for preventing future outbreaks of ebola virus.
Sinead Quealy from VirtualVet (Ireland) made the point that busy farmers and veterinarians need to harness the power of data digitisation to help them comply to existing legislation and demonstrate the responsible sourcing of medicines. Sinead’s arguments were echoed by Rebecca Veale from the National Farmers Union (UK) who presented the Animal Health Law, a new EU framework directive, which will ultimately replace more than 40 existing regulations and directives. With the new law clearly focusing on the control of endemic and exotic diseases to maintain the animal health and welfare of EU and trading partners’ stock, it is becoming increasingly important to reduce the regulatory burden for producers whilst maintaining these controls. This is where digital data can help!
Dr Ioannis Magouras from the Veterinary Public Health Institute (Switzerland) and Prof. Andrew Dowsey from Bristol University AMR Task Force (UK) filled us in on antimicrobial usage and resistance research data needs. Many questions remain currently unanswered: what quantity of antimicrobial drugs are used in veterinary medicine? what are the social factors contributing to antimicrobial usage and resistance in farming industry? What is the flow and fate of antimicrobial drugs and resistance into the environment and wildlife? Digital data could provide elements of answers to all three questions.
The “what” of animal health data digitisation
Harm-Jan van der Beek, MD of UNIFORM-Agri (Netherlands), took us through the reality of digital data capture and on-farm software adoption. Some challenges lie ahead but he also suggests areas of improvement: 1) barcode/QR code on medicines with proper information; 2) money back scheme for medicine packages & left-over (to know what is actually being used).
Sophie Throup, MD of RAFT Solutions (UK), emphasised the vast amounts of information in veterinary practices and the lack of standardised method for collating this knowledge. Their Data Vet project – a 3-year UK funded program and surveillance tool for veterinary practices – which has seen 369 diseases “digitally” mapped so far is a step in the right direction.
It became clear after hearing Frans van Diepen from the Netherlands Enterprise Agency and Jim Bracken from GS1 AISBL (Belgium) that many standard systems already exist to take us from identification, to capture and sharing. For example, EPCIS is a GS1 standard that enables trading partners to share information about the physical movement and status of products as they travel throughout the supply chain – from business to business and ultimately to consumers. We are moving forward in the right direction but are not quite there yet: “Traceability is not yet where it should be – it is not traceability if you can’t recall information quickly.”
The weak adoption of standards and control vocabularies (for data interoperability) was one of the challenges to the near real-time analysis and data interpretation which I highlighted in my talk. Other needs include: the need for data privacy and security, the need for methods capable of handling high dimensionality and large sample size, and the need for context. My last slide (see below) spurred a lot of exchanges in the room as it became increasingly clear that the issue of data & value ownership is central to our topic.
Christine Brett from GPrX Data explained what animal health can learn from digital approach to human health prescriptions. GPrX Data takes NHS big open data and makes it accessible and affordable for pharma and healthcare business intelligence and national sales teams. She introduced us to one of the many new terms coined during the workshop: “Datapretation” (go beyond providing data-provide solutions).
Dr Jorge Pinto Ferreira (Switzerland) gave a fascinating talk on Safoso‘s recent experience of the long process from digital data to real-world decisions in Vietnam. Safoso were called in to assess the Animal Health and Laboratory Information Systems in Vietnam. One of the main problems observed was the widespread use of non-standardised forms of reporting information which lead to considerable data duplication. This coupled to include a lack of strong, high-level leadership and insufficient personnel to deal with volume of paperwork resulted in a poor quality surveillance system. A new computerised and integrated reporting system was recommended and Jorge made a strong argument that the people at the source of our data are too often ignored and that they must be considered at the core of the digitisation process.
Dr John Al-Alawneh from the University of Queensland (Australia) gave us a great tour of some of the proactive farm decision support systems he and his colleagues have designed: “Once data is analysed, a farmer does not want academic reports, he wants to be advised on the best course of action for his farm”. Farmers need to be reassured that data digitisation is about moving towards quality assurance, not control.
The “how” of animal health data digitisation
Last, but certainly not least, it was important to start tackling the “how?” of digitisation.
Ene Karner, Copa Cogeca representative from Estonia, amazed us all with her presentation of her country’s digital society. Estonian political and technical leadership laid the foundation for e-Estonia on the principles of 1) decentralisation, 2) interconnectivity, 3) open platform and 4) open-ended process. I thoroughly recommend that you watch the videos introducing the system and how Estonia got there.
Dr Pat Lynch, RIKON director (Ireland), explained how the animal health value chain has traditionally been a closed business ecosystem built on transactional relationships. This has resulted in knowledge being siloed and inefficient resource utilisation. Today, this value chain is rapidly evolving with many new participants (feed companies, pharma…) redefining the industry. Furthermore, the increasing capabilities of smart, connected products not only reshape competition within the industry but expand the industry boundaries.
Exploring the “Open Collaboration” option in more details, we came across two new concepts. “Data Farm Communities”, such as Data Linker in Australia/New Zealand, are being formed by farmers with a desire to take control over their data by choosing how it is shared in a way that may create opportunities for financial gains. “Data Farm Aggregators” such as VirtualVet are actors that leverage the active participation of the data farm communities in order to aggregate their data for the provision of commercial services to other market stakeholders while ensuring maximum value of the farmers data.
Facilitated by Dr Pat Lynch , participants finally broke into groups to map out the “how?” of digital transformation.
We are currently in the process of organising all the different points for action which were raised during the afternoon of the second day. A report will be prepared and distributed…so watch this space!
Many of the contributions we heard over the two days will be published in a special research topic of the journal Frontiers in Veterinary Science. We expect the first papers to be online by early summer and we will keep you updated of the dissemination of AHEAD 2017 outcomes.
The European Union (EU) is constantly under the threat of introducing new animal diseases in its territory. The changing distribution of arthropod vectors can create the conditions for vector-borne animal diseases to enter and spread across the EU, with variable speed, depending on the epidemiology of each disease.
Several vector-borne diseases (VBDs) and infections have entered or re-entered the EU in recent times (e.g. bluetongue, West Nile fever and Schmallenberg virus) and the introduction routes have not always been identified. The list of vector-borne diseases, including the most relevant zoonoses, which could enter the EU and become endemic could be rather long, and their likely impact vary in significance. Therefore, these hazards need to be identified and ranked in relation to the risk they represent for the EU.
In 2014, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) received a mandate from the European Commission to assess the risk of introduction of new vector-borne diseases and to determine if further measures are needed. If these diseases were to enter the EU, the possible potentially devastating effects need to be evaluated. Current control measures need to be considered when identifying and ranking the documented and likely entry routes into the EU. The outcome of this work will assist the Commission in prioritising the use of resources for preventive actions in the field of animal diseases. A list of vector-borne pathogens was agreed with the EU Commission, for which the risk of entry, transmission, establishment and persistence in the EU needed to be assessed by EFSA.
Flavie was very pleased to contribute to the literature review presented in the data collection for risk assessments on animal health (DACRAH) final report, recently published and freely available via EFSA. Along with co-authors, she provided a systematic compilation of published literature on experimental infections, virus survival, diagnostic, vaccines and treatments concerning VBD agents that present a risk for the EU.
Fernanda Dórea’s 2011 paper entitled “Veterinary syndromic surveillance: Current initiatives and potential for development” was not only one of the most highly cited paper in the field, it also marked the advent of a new research field emerging only a few years earlier, and roused considerable interest in the veterinary public health community, with many people, including myself, publishing dozens of papers on the topic in the following 5 years.
I thought long and hard about what the best way of summarising all the advances in the field might be and then I decided that the easiest way to visualise most of the paper’s take-home messages could be through an infographic! Back in June I had played a little bit with infographics using the free online software Piktochart. This time, I decided to trial a new software and used Canva. So, here’s what has happened to the field of animal health syndromic surveillance in the last 5 years:
Producing this infographic was such an interesting exercise, trying to extract the essence of the paper and distill it in a very limited amount of space, and in a way that should be understandable to non-experts. In general, I think that we, researchers, need to make more of an effort to communicate our science/results to as wide an audience as possible. Not only is this some sort of accountability, after all publicly funded research comes out of tax-payers’ pockets whom should be kept informed of how it is spent, but it also helps fellow scientists keep abreast of the development in their wider research field when they have ever less time to sit down and read full papers. I think producing and distributing a nice infographic at the same time as your research paper is published is a nice way to advertise your achievement, grab the attention of the press or social media and potentially bring more readers to your papers. And we all know that more readers mean more citations…
As such, I will start to advertise this service more widely. Help me spread the word!