On behalf of the selection committee, I would like to make an overall comment on the selection process and outcomes, as follows:
We received a total of 42 applications during the stipulated period from April through the end of June, 2021. The selection process took place from July through October, 2021, and based on the individual evaluations by the selection committee members as well as a joint comprehensive review by all members, five research projects were finally selected for funding with the consensus of all selection committee members.
These include one "Comprehensive Research" and four "Field Expanding Research" projects. These two categories differ in terms of the style of project formation. "Comprehensive Research" is international and comprehensively integrative in nature, while "Field Expanding Research" is more focused on a specific field or area compared to "Comprehensive Research", but showing the potential to expand the specific field or to integrate it with others. The contents of the five selected projects are briefly outlined below.
First, the project, "International Joint Study on Public Health Economics and Value Assessment of Prevention in Pandemic – Lessons learned from COVID-19 and evidence-based recommendations for future crisis," led by Professor Onishi from the University of Tokyo, was adopted as the "Comprehensive Research" award. From the perspective of health economics and outcome research, this project aims to make policy recommendations towards the next outbreak of a pandemic by analyzing statistics and clinical epidemiological data with public restrictions and economic perspectives from public health measures taken in the early stages of COVID-19 pandemic containment and vaccination execution. As the target regions would be Japan, North America, and Europe, and there would be multiple themes to be dealt with, this was evaluated to be a flagship research project that would truly represent this grant program.
This research project was also highly evaluated for its very well-balanced plan from both medical and economic perspectives, and for its clear investigation structure in collaboration with international academic societies. The perspective of economic evaluation to assess the value of everything, including the value of tests, pharmaceuticals and vaccines, is unique and is expected to produce meaningful results.
Next, four applications were selected for "Field Expanding Research." There were various approaches to research in this cohort of applications with the focus including the social sciences, socioeconomics, and humanities, and the approach in each of these applications was inspirational and well-formulated. In addition, all of the said four research projects are to be conducted within an international network. The selection committee felt that by receiving this grant, more value would be added to these exemplary research proposals. Their content is summarized below.
"Malaria eradication in the era of COVID-19 pandemic: a study integrating sociological, economic, and medical approaches to overcome the challenges in tropical Africa," is a research project led by Professor Kaneko of Osaka City University. This grant program targets infectious diseases that are not limited to research on COVID-19 or its pandemic, and this research was recognized as innovative and original, with its multidisciplinary analysis of malaria control in COVID-19 pandemic in Africa, where efforts to eliminate malaria are an urgent issue, having significant impact on global public health through the reduction of malaria's high mortality rates (much higher than COVID-19), currently overshadowed by concerns focusing on the novel coronavirus.
The project, "COVID-19 and Society: Comparative Analysis of Risk Communication, Expertise, and Citizenship," led by Professor Tanaka of Waseda University, compares and analyzes societal responses to the COVID-19 pandemic using risk communication, the production and use of expert intelligence, public understanding and response to risk, as well as expert knowledge to show how to improve crisis management in a social context and establish a better path to recovery. Professor Tanaka has a practical and concrete research record, and based on his experience, this project was evaluated as being meaningful in its comparison of Japan, the United States, and Europe using a social science approach.
"Exploration of Practical Wisdom and Resilience Overcoming Downside Risk -Collecting grassroots voices in Africa under COVID-19," is a research project led by Assistant Professor Hanai of the University of Tokyo. It is an ambitious and unique research project that aims to understand the wisdom from the pandemic experience and the practical knowledge of citizens in Africa, where the value of democracy is being debated in executing measures and making policy recommendations to contain the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition, the initiative to collect and analyze data of local social media was evaluated as innovative and meaningful.
The project, "Implementing wastewater-based epidemiology in Asian communities to strengthen resilience against pandemics," led by Professor Haramoto of the University of Yamanashi, aims to detect and measure pathogenic viruses in sewage and to establish a monitoring system enabling early detection and early response. This project was evaluated for its attempt to systematically implement a method on a continental scale in Asia by developing further a solution that has already been proven to be effective to some extent in Japan, and for the fact that developing countries were included in the target region, with the target countries selected being well-balanced.
Each of these projects is inspiring, but as the research progresses, we have high expectations that these five projects would stimulate each other through interim report meetings and other public engagement events and, from these, the selection committee feels the next breakthrough development could emerge.
Last but not least, for example, as seen in the development of a vaccine to counter the SARS-COV-2 virus, the value of open science, integrating the humanities, social and natural sciences, has been striking. In this sense, we believe that supporting researchers to engage beyond national borders is very meaningful. As we follow up on the research projects that have been selected for funding this time, we would like to see interaction and synergy emerge among the selected projects. The selection committee hopes that in some way these grant awards would contribute towards developing project outcomes that would show the direction that can emerge from the international collaborative efforts of a single research project, with increasing social impact as each project evolves. Indeed, all five projects selected exhibit this potential, and the selection committee wishes the project teams all the very best in executing their award-winning proposals.