Emerging infectious diseases (EIDs) and antimicrobial resistance (AMR) have been rising over the past two decades, including the current COVID-19 pandemic. This has necessitated the development of improved prevention and response strategies for such risks.

This is the ultimate aim of the SoNAR-Global initiative, a global consortium that includes the University of Malta, which has been awarded €4.3 million in research funds by the European Commission. It is led by social scientists specialising in EIDs and AMR from a variety of universities and research institutes, led by the Institut Pasteur in France and University College London.

The University of Malta’s Department of Anthropological Sciences is one of the 15 global partners involved in ethnographic data collection and analysis as part of the project’s vulnerability assessment in relation to COVID-19. The research conducted in Malta is led by Prof. Jean-Paul Baldacchino, head of Department of Anthropological Sciences at the University of Malta.

On November 1, a memorandum of understanding was signed at the University of Malta with various local partners, including social organisations and authorities working among vulnerable groups from the private sector as well as from government entities and NGOs. The signatories included representatives of the Housing Authority, CareMalta, Mental Health Services, Fondazzjoni Sebħ, Blue Door, Allied Rainbow Community and Richmond Foundation.

The aim is to develop a global think tank of scholars working on applying insights from social science to health science, with a focus on infectious diseases and antimicrobial resistance. Part of the study involves the implementation of a vulnerability assessment tool across a variety of sites in Europe and beyond.

Through the study, the scholars are seeking to identify the contextual characteristics of vulnerability particular to the Maltese context, as well as to inform policies for countering the risks people face in this regard. This tool will help gather in-depth data on resilience as well as new and emerging vulnerabilities at an unprecedented international scale, while allowing us to gather insight on important localisation factors.

The research in Malta involves approximately 120 in-depth interviews with individuals from all kinds of backgrounds, who have been impacted by the current pandemic, whether in terms of their overall health and well-being, or their financial and social well-being. This research will be analysed together with the data generated from other European countries.

Prof. Baldachino stressed that COVID-19 has brought to light the urgent need to consider vulnerability not simply from biomedical terms but also from a broader social and cultural lens. He said: “This makes the research being carried out in Malta not only fundamental in informing local social policy but indeed instrumental in developing solutions that inform European policy initiatives.

COVID-19 has brought to light the urgent need to consider vulnerability not simply from bio-medical terms but also from a broader social and cultural lens

“This research represents an innovative approach not simply by combining anthropological methods to inform mental health and social policy in Malta but also because it represents a key collaboration between research at the university and a diversity of social partners.

“The memorandum of understanding serves as a solid basis and a commitment to work together with the community.”

University Rector Prof. Alfred Vella expressed his gratitude, saying “this agreement is part of the university’s support system which it needs to keep moving forward in the ongoing vulnerability research. We are glad to be contributing towards the greater good of society with the knowledge and expertise of our researchers combined with the accessibility of data from our present partnerships. We look forward to generating positive results in understanding these vulnerabilities, especially among our students.”

 

This project received funding from the EU’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme. For more information about the project, visit the www.sonar-global.eu.

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