The research team secured a special prize at the Water Industry TV Awards for their Sewers4COVID project

Exeter scientists receive the Water-Oscar award

A pan-European research team has won a prestigious award at a recent ceremony, dubbed the ‘Oscars of the water industry’, for their project that developed new solutions to aid the recovery from pandemics such as COVID-19. 

The research team, including members of the University of Exeter’s Centre for Water Systems (CWS), secured a special prize at the Water Industry TV Awards for their Sewers4COVID project - a prototype that can quickly and cost-efficiently detect outbreak hotspots at the national scale. 

The prototype utilises sewer surveillance and machine learning techniques to forecast pandemic outbreaks in real-time. It also takes into consideration socio-economic conditions, to identify vulnerable groups that are at high risk. 

The pioneering development could be used for early identification and prevention of disease spread, monitoring of public health, detection of epidemic outbreaks and enable decision-makers to take critical measures and deploy resources in advance to protect the communities from pandemics. 

The prototype was first developed by the team, led by Professor Dragan Savic FREng, teamed up with multidisciplinary experts from the KWR Water Research Institute (Netherlands), the University of Thessaly and the National Technical University of Athens (Greece), and Eurecat - Technology Centre of Catalonia (Spain) as part of the #EUvsVirus Hackathon in 2020, hosted by the European Commission.  

Following their Hackathon success, the concept of Sewers4COVID has been widely adopted to monitor the spread of SARS-COV-2 in 56 countries.  

At the Water Industry TV Awards, the team secured the special prize for their Hackathon video, which explained how the prototype worked and where it would be most effectively used. 

Professor Albert Chen said: “The Sewers4COVID video has presented a novel solution for turning wastewater into a valuable source of information for decision-making support during the pandemic. It helps the public better understand how scientists effectively detect the outbreaks and identify the hotspots before the virus further spreads within communities.” 

Professor Dragan Savic FREng said: ”Sewers4COVID is a digital platform to take the advantage of wastewater-based epidemiology for managing COVID outbreaks.” 

Prof Chrysi Laspidou (University of Thessaly, Greece), said: “We’re really happy to win the award and hope this will be the beginning of applying wastewater-based epidemiology to more places around the globe.”   

Date: 9 June 2021

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