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One year of unCoVer

Professor Jose L. Peñalvo shares his insights after working on unCoVer for a year


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Rapid evidence-based response to COVID-19 is required. Therefore unCoVer harvests real-world data from the response and provision of care to patients by the health systems across Europe and internationally during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On 18 and 19 November all 29 international project partners gathered online and offline at the Institute of Tropical Medicine in Antwerp for the third Steering Committee (SC) Meeting. They assessed the progress made during the first year, discussed the most pressing action points and defined future activities.

The unCoVer network sheds a light on the individuals behind the success of the project. The first interview in the series is with Jose L. Peñalvo, coordinator of unCoVer.

Interview with José L. Peñalvo

What is your current occupation?

I am a Professor of Public Health at the Institute of Tropical Medicine in Antwerp, where I lead the Unit of Non-Communicable Diseases. Our Unit develops epidemiological research to understand the drivers of the rising burden of NCDs, and its synergies with infectious diseases, particularly in vulnerable populations.

What is your role in the project?

I am facilitating the internal activities and the overall functionality of our network, representing it also externally and actively seeking collaborations, while aligning our actions to the European Commission requirements.

How do you coordinate your profession and professional obligations with the (extra) work developed in the project?

Easily. These are unprecedented times for an epidemiologist, and I feel privileged to be able to contribute to the understanding of our current situation. unCoVer is also well aligned with my interests as I am a data-oriented researcher very much focused on secondary data analysis. My role as coordinator fits also well with my personality, as I am a social person and very much enjoy human interaction, even over Zoom. Most importantly, I have the best team, so it is really a pleasure working with them, and with all the partners in unCoVer, and seeing this project thrive.

How do you envision the importance of this project based on an international network with collaborators from different countries?

There are several relevant layers in what we are doing. First, bringing together such a large network of scientists willing to share their data (in such a short time) is exceptional. It is very encouraging to see the efforts of all the partners in sharing information in an otherwise competitive environment such as scientific research. Second, we are working in building new ways of collaboration through data, using creative and interdisciplinary approaches that, even with some uncertainty throughout the processes, will definitively lead to novel models of participatory research.  Third, the heterogeneity of the data available to unCoVer should allow the network to shed light into some of the still unanswered questions about the COVID-19 pandemic in terms of differential impacts across populations.

For you, what makes this project an added value for science and society?

All of the above, and the results of the analyses that will be performed using the created infrastructure. Throughout unCoVer we should be able to contribute to the understanding of COVID-19 and further to share our experiences to inform future data sharing initiatives on how to perform best in this new reality that COVID-19 has exposed, where outbreaks compound with population’s vulnerabilities and heterogenous public health strategies. unCoVer will help demonstrating the feasibility of international and integrative approaches to address syndemics, and further health challenges compromising the health systems.

Can you tell us more about yourself, what do you do when not working in unCoVer?

I was born and raised in Madrid. As a good Madrileño, I love spending time with family and friends around good food and conversations. I also love the outdoors, and now in Belgium I took advantage of the many canals and joined a rowing crew that is good fun. If raining, you will probably find me drawing, a big passion since childhood that always helps me to unwind and stay a bit creative. 

The unCoVer project is funded by the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme under Grant Agreement No 101016216.

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