UQ E-Dengue project awarded more than $8M grant

6 February 2023

The University of Queensland’s Dr Dung Phung has been honoured with an $8,445,649 million grant to lead development of a user-friendly digital prediction tool that will help prevent dengue disease in Vietnam.

Funded by Wellcome, the E-Dengue project will create a digital dengue early warning system (EWS) that is based on a prediction model to help local communities and health centres mitigate outbreaks of the mosquito-borne disease in the Mekong Delta Region (MDR).  

Dr Phung, a Senior Lecturer in the School of Public Health and Theme Leader of Climate Change and Health at the Queensland Alliance for Environmental Health Sciences (QAEHS), said the three-phase project will be conducted across 13 provinces, comprising of 134 districts in the region, that are highly vulnerable to climate change, between 2023-2027.

“The first phase will involve building a climate-informed predictive model to accurately anticipate dengue incidence and outbreaks two months in advance at the district level,” Dr Phung said.

“In the second phase, we will develop E-Dengue, an open-source software system that has a user-friendly web-based and mobile-app interface based on the prediction model determined in Phase one.

“In the third phase, E-Dengue’s effectiveness and cost-efficiency will be evaluated through a community-based cluster-randomised controlled trial study, making it the first climate-driven EWS to be thoroughly evaluated with a gold-standard method,” he said.

The aim of the EWS is to help health practitioners proactively mobilise local communities to implement dengue control measures that significantly reduce disease incidence and outbreaks.

Dr Phung said once completed, the EWS would be implemented in local medical centres and extended to the public in the future.

“Researchers will assess E-Dengue user acceptance to ensure that it meets the needs of local medical centres and is easily integrated into the current communicable disease surveillance system.

“We anticipate the EWS will be successful, based on previous studies which show that sustained community involvement can substantially improve dengue disease control,” Dr Phung said.

“To date, dengue prevention efforts in Vietnam include community education campaigns, breeding site reduction programs and outdoors low-volume insecticide spraying to kill adult mosquitoes in areas with reported dengue cases.

“The limitation of these preventive measures is that they reactively take place after cases have happened, so vector control, dengue diagnosis and reporting all suffer delays.

“A lack of reliable and scalable blood tests to diagnose dengue infection has also prevented broad roll-out of the Dengvaxia vaccine in Vietnam,” he said. 

"Where it is available, the vaccine provides high levels of protection against disease in people with previous exposure to dengue viruses, but it may also increase the risk of severe dengue if given to individuals who test negative to the illness.

“E-Dengue overcomes these issues and will be scalable to other regions in Vietnam and worldwide, once its effectiveness has been demonstrated.”

The World Health Organisation estimates up to 400 million dengue infections occur globally each year with most being asymptomatic or producing mild flu-like symptoms. However, in Asian and Latin American countries, severe dengue is now the leading cause of hospitalisation and death in children and adults.

Dr Dung would like to thank Wellcome for their technical support and generous funding to make this project possible.