SPARK Newsletter | Issue 1

SPARK Newsletter | Issue 1

Although the events of 2020 have disrupted some of SPARK's activities, we hope to bring the consortium back together to share updates, activities and news about SPARK and the efforts to keep it moving forward. Nonetheless, some of us were lucky enough to meet at the start of March for a malaria workshop at the Doherty Institute, and SPARK has been growing and connecting behind the scenes. 

We thank you for your patience and hard work during this time!

Let's Connect!

We are inviting all SPARK CIs to nominate team members, students and collaborators who wish to be formally aligned with us, including to receive these updates and to join ongoing relating to SPECTRUM activities. We want to reiterate our collaborative approach and engagement with a wide array of experts, students and researchers. 

If you have anyone in mind, please contact Laura at so they can be added to the group. 


Pacific Island Countries Preparedness Modelling 

Trish Campbell and Chris Baker have shared an update about their PIC COVID-19 project that was completed some time ago. 

We worked with WPRO (WHO Western Pacific Regional Office) to produce worst case COVID-19 epidemic scenarios for eight countries in the Pacific, with a mix of urban and rural populations and differently structured health systems. One of the main aims was to estimate whether each country’s health system capacity is sufficient to cope with a widespread outbreak. There are two factors that set these countries apart from many other places that have had outbreaks: a large proportion of children in the population and very high rates of obesity. In our simulations, we were careful to outline the potential impacts of these two factors, as they make a big difference to transmission dynamics and health system requirements. Our approach was collaborative, and we made changes to our models and delivered updated reports through consultation with experts in-country.

The main team to produce reports was Eamon Conway, Trish Campbell, Jodie McVernon and Chris Baker, but Nic Geard, Rob Moss, Damien Brown, Teralynn Ludwick, Tiara Marthias and Eileen Phoenix Lam made important contributions in country-level research and in the modelling.

We hope to have more activities and updates about work in the Pacific region in the coming months. 


WPRO Seminars

We are working in collaboration with Linh-Vi Le (Lead, Strategic Epidemiology and Modelling, COVID-19, WPRO) to promote regional capacity development in appropriate uses of modelling and translation of modelling outputs to policy. This activity is in response to an identified need at a time when a plethora of modelling outputs are available to countries, who must then interpret their relevance to decisions about strategic endgames and the best choice of feasible actions to limit disease spread and burden. We contributed over June/July to a webinar series for WHO regional and country staff across the Asia-Pacific, covering topics of preparedness modelling for policy, non pharmaceutical interventions and health economics. A subsequent series to be delivered in September will consider outbreak response, mobility assessment and impacts, optimal use of testing and the use of excess mortality data as an indicator of epidemic activity.

Further collaborative training activities with WPRO and Mahidol University are envisaged. We are also planning a workshop on modelling for policy at the Joint International Tropical Medicine Meeting Virtual Conference (15-16 December 2020). Effective engagement with WPRO is already raising our profile across the region, as will envisaged training activities tailored to multiple audiences.


Structured Decision Making

Chris Baker has shared some information about structured decision making.

The aim of structured decision making is to first focus on objectives of the system, and then use mathematical models predict how well different actions will flow through to our objectives.

An important method we use is value of information theory. This aims to quantify how valuable it is to get a piece of information, in terms of the objective. For this example we can think  about the value of information of a test – or value of a test. In other words, how much will a test to a particular person reduce further epidemic spread? The more contacts the person has, the more likely they are to have COVID-19 and the more people they could be transmitting to. Not everyone has the same number of contacts, so not every test is equally valuable. When we have limited capacity to test, we try to use strategic thinking to maximise the value of our testing strategy, without overloading it and causing delays and detrimental impacts for all.

Chris wrote this piece a few weeks ago that may be of interest:


Meet Our Team!

The SPARK implementation team has expanded over the past month with the appointment of our monitoring and evaluation coordinator and our education coordinators at ANU. We are so excited to have them on the team, and their skills and expertise have already been put to good use!

Dr Emma Field - Monitoring and Evaluation Coordinator

Dr Emma Field is an epidemiologist at Australian National University with expertise in health systems strengthening, health security, and monitoring and evaluation (M&E). Emma will be leading the M&E for SPARK. Monitoring will be undertaken continuously to ascertain whether SPARK is being implemented as planned and periodic evaluation will be undertaken to determine if it is achieving its stated outcomes. A participatory approach to the M&E will be taken to create ownership of the process, the learnings and the resultant recommendations.

(You can find more information about Emma here:

Dr Samantha Colquhoun - Education Coordinator

"I am an International health researcher with 20 years of field epidemiology experience in the Pacific, South East Asia and Africa. I work on the ASEAN Masters of Philosophy in Epidemiology (MAE) at ANU and supervise  students in Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam. I lead a One Health epidemiology research project in Timor-Leste that focuses on the role of enteric pathogens in child malnutrition and stunting. I have recently joined the SPARK team as education officer and with my colleague Amy Parry we are undertaking a scoping exercise to map organisations, individuals and collaborating health departments and universities to identify key priorities, resources and challenges to direct technical capacity building."

(You can find more information about Sam here:

Dr Amy Parry - Education Coordinator

"My name is Amy and I’ll be working with Sam on the education component of SPARK.  I’m a field epidemiologist and currently undertaking a PhD at the ANU. In my PhD I’m looking into epidemiology workforce effectiveness during emergency response. Prior to commencing my PhD, I worked in Cambodia with WHO as an epidemiologist where I supported the Cambodian Ministry of Health on a range of work, including outbreaks, surveillance, and their field epidemiology training programme."

(You can find more information on Amy here:


Education and Training Update

The ANU education team have spent the last few weeks undertaking a scoping exercise to map current training resources and activities as well as identifying partner and country priorities for building workforce capacity.

The team has been in discussion with collaborators to develop a list of current education resources and trainings that can be implemented, expanded or enhanced. This scoping will also aim to identify material and resources that are developed in local languages.

Sam and Amy have had some great meetings with a number of collaborators over the past month, and will continue to map out activities. This work will continue over the next months.

More updates to come!


SPARK Website

The SPARK website is well underway, and is in the final stages with our developers. We hope to have a live website in the coming weeks.

When the website is made available to the public, we would appreciate your feedback so that website can grow along with the consortium. Watch this space!


Getting to Know You: Dr Eamon Conway

Each newsletter will feature a new consortium member that you may not know - we would love everyone to get to know one another a little better, especially during these difficult and physically distant times. 

Our first member is Dr Eamon Conway! Although he is already in the SPARK consortium, he will officially be joining us in October as a post-doctoral researcher with Ivo Mueller at WEHI.

Dr Eamon Conway has recently finished a PhD in computational mathematics at the Queensland University of Technology. Throughout this time he has worked extensively on developing computational models in a wide range of fields.

He is currently working on modelling the spread of COVID-19 and will be starting a postdoctoral position with Professor Ivo Mueller in October.

Outside of his interests in research and mathematics, Eamon is a huge cycling and card game fan.


Newsletter Content

We would love you to contribute to the newsletter. Do you have anything you would like to share with us?

Please email SPARK Project Coordinator Laura at with anything you would like to share.