Features

People with already existing conditions, such as cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and pulmonary/respiratory disease, are at greater risk from influenza (Logue et al., 2011). Women are more likely to have diabetes in their lifetime than men, and studies in the US show that women, particularly those in lower socioeconomic groups, receive less adequate diabetes care than men from the same socioeconomic group (WHO, 2010).

ASSET is close to its conclusion and a concluding conference will be held in Rome, on October 30-31, to present all the main outcomes of the project. This event will take place at the hotel NH Roma Leonardo Da Vinci and will be targeted to a selected audience of EU stakeholders and policy makers. It is conceived as a mobilization and mutual learning event at local, national and international levels on Science in Society related issues in epidemics and pandemics.

This editorial introduces the new release of ASSET paper series.

Social media, mobile technology and social networks constitute an extremely rich and dynamic information ecosystem. With a world population of more than seven billion people, almost half of them have an internet connection, while the active social media users are about 2.8 billion. Huge numbers, which clearly shows how deep these instruments are rooted into our society. It is not a surprise, then, that social media are also increasingly present in disaster and crisis response efforts. Their growing presence in these scenarios represent an issue, but also an opportunity.

In 1347, Siena, a flourishing, beautiful city-state on Tuscany hills, was a leading world power for its age. Just one year later, plague had already killed almost half of its inhabitants, changing its history forever. That did not happen only there: the impact of the Black Death – as the Middle Age epidemic was named – involved all Europe, with huge human, economic, political and cultural consequences. A typical, extreme, example of how infectious diseases can influence the course of history.

As a part of the ASSET project, the European Institute of Women’s Health were tasked with liaising with local schools to disseminate the activities of the ASSET project. The schools were to have received funding under the Erasmus Plus programme, which is the programme that combines all the EU’s current schemes for education, training, youth and sport in Europe.

Gender is considered a main issue in Horizon 2020, the largest ever EU Research and Innovation programme, with €80 billion worth of funding available over seven years. The European Commission has identified seven priority areas of societal challenges, with the goal targeting investment in research in these fields. They are:

As reported in the ASSET Strategic plan, the three Summer Schools on Science in Society related issues in Pandemics (2015, 2016, 2017) pose the main challenge of the collaborative project overall that is dealing with the intersectoral approach required by the management of Public Health Emergencies of International Concern (PHEIC), like epidemics and pandemics.

Some things just do not want to die. In public health, anti-vaccination movements keep sizzling debates, just as they did in the XIX century. At the same time,  the “deficit model” of science communication – the myth that the “public” is just ignorant and that it would support science, if spoon-fed information from the ivory tower – still haunts the relationship between health, science and the community, despite having been repeatedly debunked. The two zombies are more related than one could believe. Vaccine hesitancy and anti-vaccination movements grow in the cracks between trust and knowledge, and these are the fault lines that communication should heal – or rip apart, if it fails.

It is often said that sex and gender differences are perceived as overlooked in research design and in clinical trials, even those on vaccines. In 2010, the World Health Organisation (WHO) published the document Sex, gender and influenza, which states that many reports of influenza vaccination rates as well as the safety, efficacy and effectiveness of vaccines around the world do not disaggregate data by sex.

In front of low rates of immunization, many claim for compulsory vaccination, especially as far as healthcare workers are concerned. Their institutional role and ethical purpose is to take care of a subgroup of citizens particularly weak, because of their health conditions. This is always true, but even more when immunocompromised or frail patients, vulnerable to infections, are involved. All healthcare workers have therefore a moral duty not to hurt people they have to take care of, following the ancient principle “Primum non nocere”.

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MMLAP and other EU Projects

Health system analysis to support capacity development in response to the threat of pandemic influenza in Asia
Making society an active participant in water adaptation to global change
Public Participation in Developing a Common Framework for Assessment and Management of Sustainable Innovation
Effective communication in outbreak management: development of an evidence-based tool for Europe
Developing the framework for an epidemic forecast infrastructure
European monitoring of excess mortality for public health action
Modelling the spread of pandemic influenza and strategies for its containment and mitigation
Cost-effectiveness assessment of european influenza human pandemic alert and response strategies
Bridging the gap between science, stakeholders and policy makers
Promotion of immunization for health professionals in Europe
Towards inclusive research programming for sustainable food innovations
Medical ecosystem – personalized event-based surveillance
Studying the many and varied economic, social, legal and ethical aspects of the recent developments on the Internet, and their consequences for the individual and society at large
Knowledge-based policy-making on issues involving science, technology and innovation, mainly based upon the practices in Parliamentary Technology Assessment
Assessment of the current pandemic preparedness and response tools, systems and practice at national, EU and global level in priority areas
Analysis of innovative public engagement tools and instruments for dynamic governance in the field of Science in Society
Public Engagement with Research And Research Engagement with Society
Computing Veracity – the Fourth Challenge of Big Data
Providing infrastructure, co-ordination and integration of existing clinical research networks on epidemics and pandemics
Creating mechanisms for effectively tackling the scientific and technology related challenges faced by society
Improving respect of ethics principles and laws in research and innovation, in line with the evolution of technologies and societal concerns
Creating a structured dialogue and mutual learning with citizens and urban actors by setting up National Networks in 10 countries across Europe
Identifying how children can be change agents in the Science and Society relationship
Establishing an open dialogue between stakeholders concerning synthetic biology’s potential benefits and risks
Transparent communication in Epidemics: Learning Lessons from experience, delivering effective Messages, providing Evidence