Developing the Multi-disciplinarity of Parasitology, by taking three-steps at a time

COUNTDOWN at the British Society for Parasitology Autumn Symposium, 28th September 2017, with Lucas Cunningham, Louise Hamill, Zikmund Bartoníček, Lisa Reimer, Louis-Albert Tchuem-Tchuenté, David Molyneux, Mark Taylor, Russ Stothard

Parasitology BSP2017

The British Society for Parasitology Autumn Symposium is an annual event which this year took place on the 28th September 2017 in London at The Linnean Society, Burlington House. It was organised by Prof Russ Stothard and Dr Bonnie Webster, entitled “The Multidisciplinarity of Parasitology: Host-parasite evolution and control in an ever-changing world”.

The programme attempted to draw together and develop a multi-facet appraisal of the biology and control of parasites. The symposium has subsequently stimulated a meeting report and a blog on Bug Bitten on  why it is all interconnected in parasitology. Moreover, it was a convenient opportunity to feature some of COUNTDOWN’s stepwise progress in reporting our implementation research as set within the meeting’s three themes.  With just over 25 speakers and with an audience of just over one hundred, The Linnean’s auditorium was at maximum capacity; a clear evidence of the general interest in multi-disciplinarity.

Prof Stothard warmly welcomed everyone present with the simple message that ‘all living species are involved in parasitism, either as parasites or as hosts’. Indeed, this is a universal truth, for parasitism is not just a successful evolutionary strategy but is also part of a broader picture of symbiosis and part of the classification of how organisms, big or small, interact. As a metaphor, parasitism is tremendously powerful, and is regularly used in today’s language to describe significant socio-political events and processes as societies and sometimes nations negatively exploit others.

The modern agenda of parasitological research is therefore exciting, challenging and globally relevant as illustrated by Sir Roy Anderson. In the context of human disease, those parasites that typically play a detrimental role in global health are notorious, for example, malaria and the neglected tropical disease (NTD) collective are very well-known. To help guide the discussions and for convenience sake, the Autumn Symposium was split into three themes to help develop discussions in a stepwise manner.

The ‘ever changing world’ theme placed ongoing parasitological research within the new terminology of the Anthropocene and how mankind is altering global environments which may or may not favour parasitic diseases of medical, veterinary or wildlife importance. Both Prof David Molyneux and Prof Louis-Albert Tchuem-Tchuenté highlighted the challenge of NTD control against the background of planetary health, national control programmes and sustainable development goals. Both schistosomiasis and soil-transmitted helminthiasis are two of the most sensitive NTDs to human modifications of the environment and WASH infrastructures. For example, the building of water impoundment dams and expansion of freshwater irrigation schemes each has the potential to increase the parasite transmission, especially where urbanisation creates local water stress. Control of schistosomiasis is typically a long-haul endeavour and in recognition of his pioneering work on the epidemiology and control of schistosomiasis, David Rollinson was awarded a career medal by the International Federation for Tropical Medicine (IFTM) President, Santiago Mas-Coma.

COUNTDOWN BSP Twitter Blast

The ‘Multidisciplinarity of Parasitology’ encouraged synergies between molecular, ecological and social science components that link parasites and hosts into a more holistic appraisal of parasitism. COUNTDOWN molecular diagnostic work was presented by Lucas Cunningham and Zikmund Bartoníček on soil-transmitted helminthiasis and schistosomiasis as speed posters alongside surveillance and control studies on onchocerciasis control in Cameroon by Louise Hammill together with community engagement activities meshed with locally appropriate vector control strategies.

The ‘host-parasite evolution and control’ recognised that parasites are not simple self-replicating automata and are very able to respond rapidly to interventions waged against them. Lisa Reimer discussed opportunities for xenomonitoring of mosquito populations for surveillance of lymphatic filariasis.  The control of many parasitic diseases is a moving target as it is a dynamic and reactive system. It has been shown in previous control campaigns that a static strategy typically founder, therefore it is important to have in place an ability to monitor the success of any particular intervention and to ensure it is best tailored to the needs of the local populace for which it serves.

During the day, topics of discussion within the three themes often blurred, and they should, as cross-talk grew. Mark Taylor, President of the BSP closed the meeting and indicated that for a successful academic career in parasitology, a portfolio of skills and approaches is needed.  To end symposium, it was very fitting to discuss many aspects of parasite evolution in The Linnean Society where Darwin and Wallace once read their papers, nearly 160 years ago. Over this time much has changed and we hope an important milestone from this meeting will be the production of a special issue of Parasitology which will leave a longer lasting footprint of how parasitism and human health are most intimately intertwined.

Find here a link to the Storify on our participation at the meeting.

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It is Global Handwashing Day! What does this mean for Neglected Tropical Diseases?

by Pamela Bongkiyung, Prof Russell Stothard, Prof Louis-Albert Tchuem Tchuente

Today Sunday, October 15th, we celebrate Global Handwashing Day, a day dedicated to global advocacy on increasing awareness and understanding on washing hands with soap, thereby preventing several communicable diseases. This awareness it is hoped will increase participation and save lives from preventable diseases.

Since the campaign launched in 2008, it has garnered enough support to be celebrated in over 100 countries with over 100 million people participating each year. The Global Handwashing Day aims to:

  • Foster and support a global and local culture of handwashing with soap
  • Shine a spotlight on the state of handwashing around the world
  • Raise awareness about the benefits of handwashing with soap

According to a 2014 UNICEF report on Levels & Trends in Child Mortality, diarrhoea accounts for 9 per cent of leading causes of death among children under five. Each day, nearly 1,000 children die due to preventable water and sanitation-related diarrhoeal diseases. Diarrhoea is easily transmitted where poor hygiene and sanitation are rife. Pneumonia, diarrhoea and malaria accounted for 1.3 million of under-five deaths in sub-Saharan Africa and roughly half a million in Southern Asia in 2014. Accelerating the reduction in under-five mortality rates is possible through expanding preventive and remedial interventions.

As far back as 2010, UNICEF developed an advocacy pack to inform and support planning of activities to raise the profile of WASH (Water, sanitation and hygiene) in schools around the world. This pack was created as part of its campaign ‘Raising Clean Hands: Call to Action for WASH in Schools’.

But what has all this got to do with Neglected Tropical Diseases(NTDs)? For those in the NTD world, this day is of great significance as handwashing is a good habit to develop for a sustainable and long-term control on preventing infection or re-infection with diseases such as soil-transmitted helminthiasis (STH). According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), around 1.5 billion people are infected with STH worldwide. STH are caused by infection with the roundworm (Ascaris lumbricoides), whipworm (Trichuris trichiura) and hookworms (Ancylostoma duodenale or Necator americanus). They are among the commonest infections especially those living in poverty.

These STH diseases thrive in warm, tropical environments, where sanitation is inadequate. Parasite eggs and larvae are excreted in the faeces of infected individuals which contaminate the environment, particularly the soil. People are infected through ingestion of roundworm or whipworm eggs on contaminated foods or by direct skin penetration of hookworm larvae from the ground.

When individual children harbour large numbers of these worms it can lead to bowel obstruction and iron deficiency anaemia which, over time leads to malnutrition and growth impairment.

Improving hand hygiene before eating and safe disposal of faecal material is important. The 6th goal of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) which continues the legacy of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) states: ‘ensure clean water and sanitation for all’. WHO estimates at least 1.8 billion people around the world use a source of drinking water that is contaminated by faeces. With 2.4 billion having limited to no access to basic sanitation services such as toilets or latrines, we can see how lasting control of STH is a challenge.

SDG Banner - Health in the Global Era

Reason why handwashing and WASH in general are crucial to the elimination of NTDs. The latest Guideline: preventive Chemotherapy to control soil-transmitted helminth infections in at-risk population groups published by WHO last month, emphasises long-term solutions to STH require improvements in water, sanitation and hygiene. The Fourth WHO Report on Neglected Tropical Diseases titled ‘Integrating Neglected Tropical Diseases into Global Health and Development‘, indicates that providing safe water, sanitation and hygiene is critical for preventing and providing care for most NTDs but tends to be neglected relative to its importance. The report warns that without concerted effort to improve access to safe WASH, diseases will return to higher prevalence levels.

The COUNTDOWN programme which is multidisciplinary in its make-up has tackled this issue by participating in discussions with intersectoral partners to engage in knowledge-brokering and taking a collaborative approach to knowledge share in the process. In the current health environment where capacities are distributed, coming together to seek solutions to universal problems such as these, is paramount. The COUNTDOWN team has recently authored a paper soon to be published in Trends in Parasitology entitled “Tailoring water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) targets for soil-transmitted helminthiasis and schistosomiasis control.

You can read more from COUNTDOWN relating to STH here.

How can you participate in the global handwashing movement? Choose from this Lazy Person’s Guide to Saving the World or share with us your experiences working in this sector in the comment section and join us on social media for further interactions.

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