Seven institutions form new diseases research institute

Poverty-related diseases are a major concern worldwide and several research initiatives have been put in place to help fight the scourge. The latest involves seven higher education institutions from six countries – including four West African nations – under the banner of the Institute for Infectious Diseases of Poverty, or IIDP.

The 2012 Global Report for Research on Infectious Diseases of Poverty produced by the World Health Organization, or WHO, pointed out that these diseases continue to afflict much of the world and claim millions of lives a year, many of them children under five years old, and cause enormous burdens through long-term disability.

It was concern about the continuing high incidence of illness in West Africa that brought the institutions together in an effort to develop the intellectual, regulatory and physical infrastructure required to fight infectious diseases of poverty.

Executive Director of the IIDP Dr Margaret Gyapong said the diseases include the Buruli ulcer, tuberculosis and malaria, which “affect the very poor in society, and with research into simple ways to prevent them, the region would be able to fight one of its numerous problems”.

The Global Report said: “While research funding to combat HIV-Aids, malaria and TB has increased, other infectious diseases associated with poverty, such as Chagas disease, leighmaniasis, human African trypanosomiasis and Buruli ulcer have not had the same attention.”

New partnership

The five West African institutions forming the southern partners in the consortium are: the school of public health at the University of Ghana; the department of parasite and tropical health at Modibo Adama University of Technology in Nigeria; the department of pharmacology and therapeutics and the malaria research laboratory at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria; Institut Universitaire d’Abidjan in Cote d’Ivoire; and the malaria research and training centre at the University of Bamako in Mali.

The northern partners are the Sunway Campus of Monash University in Malaysia and Hughes Hall college at the University of Cambridge in the UK. They have all pledged to conduct research to help find solutions to the devastating problems caused by diseases of the poor.

The World Bank has pointed out that the global rate of extreme poverty – less than US$1.25 a day – has been falling over the past two decades and will likely meet Millennium Development Goals for 2015.

But this is largely because of rapid economic development in China and India, while many African countries with a high burden of infectious diseases are lagging behind.

Unfortunately, in Africa much poverty is entrenched, said the Global Report: “Poverty creates conditions that favour the spread of infectious diseases and prevents affected populations from obtaining adequate access to prevention and care.”

According to WHO, in Ghana “poverty, access to healthcare, poor, limited education and diminished social support have challenged the coping strategies of many women and exacerbated negative consequences of lyphoendema-related stigma”, which is one of the diseases of the poor.

Gyapong said the need to set up the IIDP stemmed from changing trends in donor support for health research in countries in the global South.

“The trend on the international landscape in funding health research has shifted from the situation where the donor permits recipients to operate within an existing donor-Northern partner-prescribed institutional framework as guided by donor interests, to a situation where the donors surrender funds to a Southern recipient’s treasury for decision and use.”

One of seven Wellcome research projects in Africa

She said the IIDP was born out of a call by the Wellcome Trust in 2008 to build a critical mass of sustainable local research capacity across Africa by strengthening African universities and research institutions.

“The trust would provide funding to support the creation of consortia and networks; research institutes located within Africa and between these institutions and UK higher education institutions.”

These institutions include well-established research institutions and promising ones alike, and must have a focus on health research, including biomedical research and public health.

The IIDP is one of seven projects selected by the Wellcome Trust across Africa to receive initial five-year funding. Others are based in Côte d'Ivoire, Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania and Uganda and all include the aim of training researchers in field of health.

Gyapong said the IIDP’s main concern was that infectious diseases of poverty remained a major problem because “there is still the lack of inter disciplinary research capacity and our institutions still have fragile human capital, regulatory systems and physical infrastructure and the need for skilled, local scientists in supportive environments”.

Currently much of the institute’s work is concentrated on research into epidemiology and community assessment of infectious diseases and control. In addition, its students will be supported to conduct research into the implementation of health systems, and cell and molecular biology as well as health behavioural factors in infectious disease research and control.