First international workshop of the SPACE project in Paris

AVELINE-DUBACH Natacha, CNRS Research Director, French Lead PI of the SPACE project


HO Shirley, President’s Chair Professor of Communication Studies & Associate Vice President (Humanities, Social Sciences, & Research Communication), NTU

French-Singaporean project SPACE focuses on the urgent area of the prevention and control of infectious diseases in urban environments. Its first international workshop took place on December 7 and 8, 2023 at the Centre Panthéon of the University Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne. It aimed to showcase the initial findings from research conducted in Singapore and foster a collaborative dialogue with social science researchers in France exploring infectious disease risk factors.

In an increasingly networked and mobile world, infectious diseases are increasingly globalized, undermining global prevention efforts. Such diseases spread through various media and impact populations unevenly across fragmented urban environments. While widespread urbanization has rendered all regions vulnerable, large urban areas remain the epicenters for epidemic outbreaks and transmissions as they serve as dense nodes of rapid economic and infrastructural development, urban inequalities, mobility and migration, and broader environmental changes.

While a substantial body of research has explored the risk factors of specific infectious diseases in cities, limited knowledge exists on the interactions between different diseases with varying transmission patterns. Furthermore, there is a research gap in understanding how urban residents from diverse socio-cultural and built environments perceive epidemics, prepare to respond, negotiate with public policies, and contribute through their lifestyles to the spread of diseases.

 The SPACE project (Shaping Public Adaptive Capacity for Environmental Infectious Diseases) seeks to address this gap. Its primary objective is to develop an innovative protocol for disease prediction and prevention in the Singaporean context, with a specific emphasis on dengue, considering its concurrent occurrence with COVID-19. The project assumes that the acquisition of knowledge on response to health risks and adaptive capacity of residential communities and urban stakeholders can significantly improve the predictive power of epidemiologic models, as well as to understand the processes leading to the concentration of health risk factors in specific locations.

The project is funded by the National Research Foundation and the grant was obtained under the CREATE program. Among the nine partners, or the CREATE consortium, CNRS is the only institution to act as a research center.

SPACE is overseen by CNRS@CREATE, the entity set up by CNRS in Singapore to manage CREATE projects. It brings together the five most prestigious public universities in Singapore: NUS, NTU, SUTD, SMU and SUSS. In France, the workshop host Université Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne co-supervises the two main research units supporting the SPACE project:  (project support unit) and Prodig. Other French universities and research organizations are also involved: Université de Nanterre, Université Reims-Champagne, INRAE. In all, the project brings together some thirty researchers.

For this workshop in Paris, we have invited colleagues engaged in different disciplines across the social science research on infectious diseases in France. We also invited Robert Boyer (research director at CNRS, Institut des Amériques) and Jean-Paul Gaudillière (research director at EHESS) to offer broader perspectives on how the COVID-19 pandemic has influenced capitalism(s), and how the international public health landscape is evolving in the context of current global health governance.

 The workshop’s success is credited to its distinguished presenters and guests, among them Cécile Faliés, Robert Boyer, Stephane Ghiotti, Judith Rainhorn, Jean-Paul Gaudilliere, Céline Vacchiani, Laëtitia Gauvin, Jean Debrie, Juliette Maulat, and our dedicated team of SPACE researchers. Furthermore, the event gathered the participation of speakers and guests from Singapore and Thailand through teleconference, culminating in a total of 30 attendees.

There are several reasons for Singapore and France to collaborate in infectious disease research within social science disciplines: addressing the rapid escalation of air-borne diseases in global pandemics requires examining how endemic vector-borne diseases can impact and exacerbate in various contexts.

The reasons are threefold:

  • The incidence of dengue has grown dramatically around the world in recent decades, with reported cases now exceeding 5 million, and affecting over 100 countries. This includes Singapore, where dengue is endemic. Dengue is also endemic or endemo-epidemic in several French overseas territories (notably in the Caribbean the South Pacific). Currently, we are witnessing the emergence of autochthonous dengue in the south of mainland France. This situation is unique among European countries, and the determinants have yet to be identified. In any case, the incidence of dengue is highly likely to increase in the coming years due to the influence of climate change.
  • Singapore and France have developed sophisticated models of dengue transmission factors based on biophysical, demographic, mobility, and land-use determinants. Working on this project are scholars involved in compelling research in Singapore. In France, we have in Montpellier (South of France) a cluster of researchers of various disciplines involved in dengue research as well as colleagues from the Institute for Research and Development (IRD) investigating dengue transmission dynamics in French overseas territories and other countries. These collaborations are essential to understanding the relationships and interdependence of various determinants of dengue transmission.
  • Both countries are experimenting with innovative approaches to reduce mosquito populations. Singapore employs Wolbachia technology, which involves infecting male Aedes aegypti mosquitoes with a bacterium to prevent the eggs from hatching. In French Polynesia, male mosquitoes undergo X-ray sterilization before being released to mate. The success of these experiments in both countries significantly depends on community acceptance, which gives strong significance to social science approaches.

Alongside the numerous studies modeling risk factors and analyzing the impact of biotechnologies to reduce the mosquitos, there is a significant gap in social science research addressing the political, socio-economic, and cultural aspects in the transmission of dengue. In this workshop, we focus on these dimensions. Although the COVID-19 pandemic has been extensively analyzed by social scientists, we specifically address gaps in the mobility aspects of COVID-19.

The opportunity to collaborate and share insights with fellow researchers from France and Singapore promises to enrich our collective understanding and foster meaningful connections.

We would also like to express gratitude to our sponsors for their generous support: the National Research Foundation, University Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne (with special thanks to its vice-president Cécile Faliès), as well as the Labex Dynamite for their facilitation of the international workshop.