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PODCAST project seeks solution for cholera outbreaks

13 February 2019

A new project, Pathways Of Dispersal for Cholera And Solution Tools (PODCAST) will investigate the sources and transmission routes of microbial pollution and produce risk maps for cholera outbreaks to help reduce the threat of this waterborne disease for human health.

Areas of cholera outbreaks, courtesy of the World Health Organisation

Cholera is a waterborne epidemic disease in humans, which is caused by the bacterial pathogen Vibrio cholerae. The disease is a major public health threat, affecting globally 1.3 to 4 million people each year, with 21,000 to 143,000 reported fatalities.

In the period 2010-2016, the World Health Organisation (WHO) reported cholera cases in more than 80 countries around the world with 57% of the cases from countries bordering the northern Indian Ocean. Cholera outbreaks have increased in the highly-populated coastal regions, connected with enhanced pollution of water bodies and food sources, notably contamination of drinking water sources.

The PODCAST project, led by Plymouth Marine Laboratory, brings together a multidisciplinary team of researchers from India, Japan and the UK with expertise in microbiology, genomics, epidemiology, remote-sensing, modelling and climate science. The team will study the dynamics of Vibrio pathogens and cholera outbreaks in the northern Indian Ocean region, and assess links with climate and extreme weather events, to advance capability to forecast outbreaks in the northern Indian Ocean RIM countries.

Working in consultation with local populations and decision-makers, the project will generate new tools and risk map products that will be relevant for further actions towards sustainable human-environment interactions, for instance, by providing policy information about coastal areas where microbial and antibiotic pollution should be treated as priorities.

The new project is funded by the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC) in partnership with Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST) and India’s Department of Biotechnology (DBT).

Dr Marie-Fanny Racault, Principal Investigator of the PODCAST project commented:

“The PODCAST project is an incredible chance for a multicultural and interdisciplinary team to make it possible to improve surveillance systems and knowledge of the diversity and connectivity of environmental reservoirs of Vibrio cholerae pathogens, and strengthen capacity of India and northern Indian Ocean RIM countries to produce forecasts and risk maps for cholera outbreaks.”

PODCAST is one of eight two-year research projects funded under the Towards a Sustainable Earth (TaSE) research programme. This £4.3M multilateral initiative between the UK, India, China, Japan and Sweden joins scientists from across five countries to collaborate on ambitious research to gain a deeper understanding of the relationship between humans and their environment in achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.

NERC Executive Chair Professor Duncan Wingham said:

“Realising the ambitions of the UN Sustainable Development Goals to end poverty, hunger and inequality across the globe, while preserving and maintaining our environmental resources, is key to ensuring future wellbeing and prosperity in both developed and developing countries.

“These multi-disciplinary projects will bring together researchers from five countries to help us understand the complex relationships between people and the environment, leading the global effort on finding comprehensive solutions to global challenges.”

Related information

NERC call: Towards a Sustainable Earth (TaSE) 

NERC TaSE news story

PODCAST project page

The tools and risk map products generated towards the end of the project in 2022 will be relevant for further actions towards sustainable human-environment interactions and support achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals on Health (Goal 3), Water Quality (Goal 6), Climate (Goal 13) and Life under the water (Goal 14).

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