Russell Stothard to speak at the Glasgow Encounters with Tropical Disease conference

On the 8 January the University of Glasgow will hold a celebration of Scottish parasitologists and their legacy on today’s public health research. Many of the diseases that are endemic to low- and middle-income countries in the tropics are caused by parasites. An extraordinary number of these parasites were first discovered by Scottish scientists and doctors, many of whom were graduates of the University of Glasgow. This symposium, organised by the Wellcome Trust Centre for Molecular Parasitology, will consider the contributions and impacts of three of these scientists: Robert Leiper; William Leishman and Muriel Robertson.

Our Director, Russell Stothard, will attend and speak about Leiper’s lasting contribution to schistosomiasis. Russell will explain how 100 years ago Leiper discovered the lifecycle of African schistosomes that infect humans. He will set this discovery against the background of his work in Egypt just prior to World War One when schistosomiasis was then a major military concern. Leiper devised simple measures for prevention and control of water-borne parasitic diseases. Today, for example, the near-eradication of Guinea worm is built on Leiper’s 1907 Ghanaian work. However, schistosomiasis still continues to be a significant challenge globally.

You can find out more about the meeting and register on their website.

Photo credit: Nathan Kaemena Photography

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4th Angolan Conference on Science and Technology

‘Together for strengthening the insertion of science, technology and innovation in the country development strategy’ was the motto of the 4th National Conference on Science and Technology in Angola. The conference is a bi-annual event to encourage the presentation and discussion of scientific works among the Angolan community. The conference assessed the successful experiences of other countries such as South Africa, Botswana, Brazil, Canada, Cuba, Spain, USA, France, Mozambique, Portugal and Zimbabwe.

The event took place simultaneously with the Seventh Fair of Inventors and Creators of Angola (FEICA 2015), the International Fair of Ideas, Inventions and Products Valorisation, and the Science and Technology Fair.

About 300 people attended and included government officials, national and foreign experts, representatives of the United Nations and European Union, teachers, students and potential investors.

Among them was Mr Getachew Engida, the UNESCO Deputy Director-General, who gave a keynote on the Sustainable Development Goals. These goals are universal and will be applied to the North and the South. One of the driving forces behind them is the imperative of the need to act on climate change understanding that we cannot continue to consume energy in the manner that we currently do.

Science, technology, innovation and health

Science, technology and innovation – including information and communication technology – will be central to the achievement of all of the seventeen goals. There is a need to ensure that the benefits of science, technology and innovation are spread throughout society.

The diseases which are a priority in the Africa region – such as Neglected Tropical Diseases, malaria and TB – haven’t been appropriately tackled by research. One of the reasons for this is that they have never impacted significantly on high-income countries. The capacity of people affected by diseases of poverty to pay for prevention and treatment is often constrained by poverty. As a result they do not receive adequate private sector investment.

Yet it is clear that this is a situation that could change. The rush to develop an Ebola vaccine when it became clear that the outbreaks could effect rich Northern countries is testament to this. Previous outbreaks were relatively localised and did not attract the interest and investment that we have seen in West Africa. Although the effects of the outbreak were equally devastating for those who were impacted.

Growing local capacity for science technology and innovation

At the conference I had the opportunity to present a poster presentation on the on-going work from my PhD on the mapping of Neglected Tropical Diseases using RAPLOA and REMO in Bengo province, Angola.

I was one of many national scientists who are working to increase local capacity through research that focuses on Angola’s development priorities. For science, technology and innovation to benefit those most in need we must reorientate investment and capacity to those researchers and scientists who are able to reflect the needs of their nations in the issues that they focus on and the potential beneficiaries of their scientific discoveries.

How can we make Universal Health Coverage truly universal? Equity, gender, disability, and NTDs

By Russell Stothard and Kate Hawkins

Equity is a weak spot in Neglected Tropical Disease (NTD) policy and practice; often aspired to but rarely realised. At the recent COR-NTDs meeting we hosted a session which brought together experts who have been struggling to address equity issues with regard to overlooked and under-prioritised populations. It provided examples of current work on equity and NTDs from multilateral, bilateral, national and community level perspectives. The objectives of the session were: (1) To explore how equity is being addressed in relation to NTDs at different levels of the health system; and (2) To identify key research questions for equity and NTD programming and make recommendations for equity and NTDs policies and programmes.

The session began with a presentation by Margaret Gyapong who provided case studies on Onchocerciasis and schistosomiasis that highlighted inequity in access to treatment and morbidity management. A panel including Charles MacKenzie (LSTM) who chaired the session, Samantha Page (LSTM), Camilla Ducker (DFID), and Elizabeth El-Hassan (SightSavers) provided expert reflection on the issues.

What issues came up?

Small group work enabled us to get detailed feedback on research priorities and areas where there are evidence gaps.

Community and District levels: Participants felt that more research was needed into the social benefits of disease control (for example, less stigmatization in key groups, improved family planning and reproductive health).There were also concerns that there is little formal documentation of resources among Community Drug Distributors – a group that has a great deal of potential to act on equity and the social determinants of health.  There were felt to be gaps in our understanding of gender-specific issues in the need and delivery of interventions. For example, the way that current programmes for schistosomiasis and soil transmitted helminths mostly target school aged children meaning that particular groups – such as adults and children who do not attend school – fail to benefit from them.

National level: Participants mentioned weaknesses within current methods of data collection, and that transgender issues were of growing importance. The need for gender-specific messaging within health interventions was recognized and that there is a need to test alternative programme strategies to maximize programmatic impact among people of all genders. More clarity is needed on exactly what data is collected and harmonization with other interventions for example on Malaria and HIV may be needed. Participants wondered whether all the data included in the NTD master plans took account of gender related issues for example, sex disaggregated data on community drug distributors. How these master plans relate to broader health strategies and plans was considered to be important as was how Ministries of Gender and the Family understood and supported work on NTDs.

International level: Participants felt that there could be more clarity on the use of Preventive Chemotherapy medicines in pregnancy and antenatal care. More could be done to elaborate what universal health coverage might look like in relation to the Preventive Chemotherapy amenable NTDs and understanding and aligning the reporting indicators that national governments will use. More could be done to understand how gender and other inequities potentially act as a barrier to treatment and perhaps this could be the topic of a systematic review.

We are thankful to all participants for engaging so thoroughly and we look forward to continuing this discussion and taking forward some of the suggestions.

Photo courtesy of the World Bank.