I’m a microbiologist from Angola and I’ve just started my PhD on understanding of the spatial and temporal micro-epidemiology on Neglected Tropical Diseases in the province of Bengo, Angola. The aim of my research is to be focused on vector prevalence based on the molecular, geographic information system mapping and spatial analysis where it will confirm the endemicity of filariasis and schistosomiasis and how their co-endemicity can affect the mass drug administration of albendazol and ivermectin respectively. This will develop my long term interest on parasitic conditions – very important diseases in my country.
I’m from the e-generation, I realise that writing scientific blogs is important, not only to enhance my research while doing my PhD, but also to share my personal experiences and increase the awareness of Neglected Tropical Diseases. So, on my first day of the PhD programme I was lucky to attend the lecture by Russell Stothard, my supervisor, to the Wilderness Medical Association, a student group in University of Liverpool, “Tips in field epidemiology: Just get out there and be well prepared”.
Expeditions in medicine give you a little bit of wilderness, especially when you go to the tropics, and this lecture aimed to inspire the audience how to practice proper medical research outside the hospital. It also emphasized that this is a strength of the type of study at Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine.
Learning more about schistosomiasis
To set the scene we heard an introduction to schistosomiasis, including its life cycle, its pathology, and a cultural analysis of the impact of the disease. Even after 150 years of research, there’s always something new to be learnt from archives. For example, in the seminal observations by Professor Robert Thomson Leiper in Egypt which he wrote while seconded to the Royal Army Medical Corps which bring together the best principles of wilderness and tropical medicine.
Today, 90% of the cases of schistosomiasis occur in Africa, and it is vital to put this disease on the global radar and to increase efforts to control it. The interesting bit about studying schistosomiasis is that you can actually become a gastroenterologist, a urologist, or even a neuroscientist (if you want to study its rarer neurological conditions)!
Schistosomiasis is a major health concern. In countries such as Tanzania, where urogenital schistosomiasis is highly endemic, some people in rural areas think that boys also have a type of menstruation. In reality their children urinate blood due to the presence of the parasite. Blood in the urine is a classic sign of urogenital schistosomiasis and is not always completely understood.
The three skills vital for those interested in conducting an expedition are: Patience, practice and perseverance
At the lecture we learnt that is important to be meticulously organized for an expedition, which means having a contingency plan, materials double-checked, carefully plotting a route, and having research documents ready. One week in the field usually takes about five or six weeks of prior organisation. All this can be found fully explained in the excellent field manual by Sheppard, the Vehicle-dependent Expedition Guide. It is also important to be very precise with communications, especially dealing in complex local languages.
Russell reported on his experiences in Lake Victoria during an expedition in 2010 with the aim of mapping schistosomiasis across the Sesse Islands. A video about the survey was shown, where freshwater snail and parasite collection methods could be seen and the techniques used to take GPS points and pH measurements. These surveys revealed a large burden of the disease which was previously unreported.
This lecture provided the taste of my future research and I’ll be joining the annual conference of the British Society of Parasitology in April on malaria, Neglected Tropical Diseases and vectors. Would you join me? If yes, please register and help place these issues on the global health agenda.