Tackling emerging global health threats

Risk management support systems address the challenge of health threats worldwide

The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic clearly highlights the far-reaching health, economic and social impacts of emerging global health threats.

Managing these risks requires robust preparedness planning and a rapid coordinated response.

We have developed a framework that effectively supports bio-security risk management.

To date, it has supported health security decisions at the UK Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA); the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO); World Health Organization (WHO); and the Malaria Consortium / USAID.

It has also effectively supported DEFRA in the management of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Our impact

Supporting DEFRA

  • Our framework was implemented as an integrated process and management tool, e-thir.
  • It has supported DEFRA’s Veterinary Risk Group's decision making since 2009, enhancing the evidence-based management of emerging health threats.
  • It has improved health risk control regulations, including the restriction of animal imports, and guiding changes in national and international legislation.

Enhancing FAO and WHO’s international food standards

  • Our framework helped FAO and WHO to evaluate the impacts and ranking of high-risk, low-moisture food categories. 
  • This analysis enhanced evidence-based recommendations for the CODEX Alimentarius commission which oversees risk regulations and food standards.

Improving the distribution of Malaria Rapid Diagnostic Tests (RDTs)

  • Our work underpins an improved Malaria RDT distribution system, helping to reduce the fatal impact of malaria worldwide.
  • The work - in partnership with researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and conducted for the Malaria Consortium / USAID - was recognised by the prestigious INFORMS Decision Analysis Society’s Decision Analysis Practice Award in 2018.

The research

Our research, conducted for more than a decade, was focused initially on the design of risk prioritisation processes and the impact of facilitated decision analysis within organisations.

Building on this work, we have developed a conceptual framework that addresses the main challenges faced by the health policymakers who manage emerging health threats with a potential global reach.

Our ongoing research spans three areas – the development of innovative decision-making tools for risk management, process enhancement, and competence building. To this end, we have developed a:

  • coherent modelling scheme for measuring multiple impacts and for balancing competing priorities
  • systemic approach to the development and embedding of organisational decision support systems
  • pioneering decision analysis to assess value throughout testing kit supply chains

These innovative tools have enhanced health experts’ recommendations to policy agencies and improved health risk control regulations, whilst improving evidence-based management of health threats and influencing the debate for the adoption of high-value policy options.

In 2021, this work earned the research team The Operational Research Society’s most prestigious prize for the application of operational research in Europe, the EURO Excellence Practice Award.

e-thir has been an important tool for supporting the Veterinary Risk Group in assessing a large number of animal health threats since 2014, in producing Covid response guidance, and in drawing national and supra-national legislation.

Dr Helen Roberts G7 Advisor Exotic Disease Control - DEFRA

Research funders

  • FAO / WHO

Development partners

  • FAO / WHO
  • Malaria Consortium, USAID and MIT

Meet the experts

Photograph of Alberto Franco

Professor L Alberto Franco

Chair in Operations and Supply Chain Management - University of Bristol