Status update: neglected infectious diseases
Infectious diseases under the spotlight at today’s EDCTP Forum in Lusaka included an old enemy (malaria), some less familiar infections (the group of so-called neglected infectious diseases) and a deadly newcomer (Ebola Virus Disease).
Dr Abdisalan Noor of the Global Malaria Programme (Switzerland) had a very encouraging story to tell concerning the unprecedented level of investment into malaria programmes in recent years and the successes achieved with distribution of drugs, mosquito nets and diagnostic tests. This has led to reductions in case numbers and deaths. But there is still a high disease burden due to malaria and there have been reverses in some countries. Less than half the funding needed to meet the targets set for 2020 has yet to become available. Dr Noor also gave a fascinating account of his own field, ‘spatial epidemiology’ and the mapping of malaria. The work that his unit is undertaking is intended to influence policy and interventions. Spatial epidemiology also has much to offer in the study and control of other diseases, including soil-transmitted helminths, onchocerciasis and trachoma.
Dr Nathalie Strub Wourgraft of the Drugs for Neglected Disease Initiative (Switzerland) spoke about the 18 diseases considered to be ‘neglected’. They include sleeping sickness, river blindness and Buruli ulcer. Ten years ago research into neglected infectious diseases (NIDs) was at a standstill. Only 1% of research was devoted to NIDs despite their being responsible for 12% of the global burden of disease – ‘the fatal imbalance’. NIDs are now firmly on the agenda though research spending is still not proportionate to the disease burden. Meanwhile, current treatments have many problems; they are ineffective, toxic and difficult to use. She gave an account of the research gaps that must be addressed. EDCTP can provide support in many ways. She closed with a description of the devastating effects of mycetoma, the latest disease to be added to the WHO list of NIDs.
Representatives from the health ministries of Sierra Leone and Liberia and Prof. Peter Horby of the University of Oxford discussed the tragic outbreak of Ebola Virus Disease in Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea, which began in June 2014. There were warnings that such an epidemic could occur but – nationally, regionally and internationally – no one was prepared. The impact of EBV on those countries and the likely reasons why it spread so rapidly were discussed. Research is needed to find ways of combating such situations and it should be commenced as soon as possible after an epidemic has begun. Although there were delays research did take place. In such difficult circumstances this was an achievement. Capacity for research in the three countries has now been considerably improved and hopefully the response from researchers would be quicker in the event of a similar disease outbreak in future. Lessons have been learned. Nevertheless, it is impossible to predict what the next such major outbreak will be and where it will strike first. Effective surveillance programmes are needed.
The day also saw the presentation of another EDCTP research award. Women have much to contribute as scientists but many factors can still hold them back in their careers. EDCTP recognises this and hopes to encourage women researchers through its ‘Outstanding Female Scientist Award’. The recipient was Professor MarleenTemmerman from Belgium.
Outstanding Female Scientist
Professor Marleen Temmerman received the EDCTP Award for Outstanding Female Scientist 2016. The award consists of a trophy and 20,000 euro. The award ceremony took place at the Eighth EDCTP Forum in Lusaka, Zambia, The award was presented by Professor Nkando Luo, the Honourable Minister of Higher Education, Research, Vocational Training, Science and Technology of Zambia.