Broadening access to our tropical medicine diploma

Recent funding has enabled increased access worldwide to our Diploma in Tropical Medicine & Hygiene in support of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.

Our course in tropical medicine prepares medically qualified doctors to sit a Royal College of Physicians exam which confers the Diploma of Tropical Medicine & Hygiene. Directed by our Institute of Infection, Immunity and Inflammation’s Professor Mike Barret, the course has been taught since the mid-1980s.

Now delivered through blended learning, most of the study is online, with a one-week in-person practical microscopy teaching session required to fulfill a Royal College of Physicians (RCP) exam pre-requisite.

Since 2016, the online aspect has been reimagined for the digital era by Dr Christina Naula, who has created a student-centred distance learning experience, attracting students from 33 countries across Africa, Asia-Pacific, Europe and North America. The online component is approved as a stand-alone course at a preferential rate for low-to-middle income countries, providing the opportunity to broaden access by combining it with local practical microscopy teaching.

In 2019, we successfully won a small grant from the Global Challenges Research Fund for capacity strengthening. This stimulated support for scholarships meaning students from the College of Medicine, Blantyre; University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur; and Universitas Indonesia were able to join the course from 2019 onwards.

Working with scholars from these partner universities will enable us to build teaching capacity to deliver the practical microscopy week in their home countries from 2021 onwards. By offering this training locally, the cost for local doctors to embark on the course are significantly reduced, leading to a more equitable distribution of this prestigious qualification. Furthermore, the decentralisation of training, devolves power to low-to-middle income countries to take ownership of this process.

The establishment of these teaching hubs offers further potential to develop our strong ties with partner organisations such as Médecins sans Frontières, who have expressed interest in the potential of our approach.

The course is supported by contributions from our One Health researchers, including Professor Mike Barrett (African trypanosomiasis), Professor Sarah Cleaveland (rabies), Dr Poppy Lamberton (schistosomiasis) and Dr Lisa Ranford-Cartwright (malaria). These contributions stand alongside those of NHS consultants in infectious diseases such as Dr David Bell, Dr Elizabeth White and Dr Sam Allen. In recent years, and more so in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the course has forged strong links with our sister courses at The University of Sheffield and Médecins sans Frontières. These collaborations allow each institute in their respective areas of excellence to strengthen each other’s courses.

Historically, the Diploma of Tropical Medicine & Hygiene has been predominately subscribed to by doctors from the UK and other prosperous countries. Our innovative scholarship programme and capacity strengthening activities are beneficial to all students, bringing diversity and first-hand experience of relevant tropical diseases to the student group. By establishing strong relationships during the course, it is hoped opportunities for learning, sharing and collaboration will continue long after the course has been completed.

Scotland and tropical disease discoveries
Scotland has played a key role in developments in the field of tropical medicine with discoveries such as Sir Patrick Manson identifying a role for mosquitoes in transmitting parasitic worms, and his protégé Ronald Ross finding a similar role for mosquitoes in transmitting malaria.

Glaswegian William Leishman identified the parasites that cause the disease leishmaniasis, and another Glaswegian, Muriel Robertson, described the developmental stages of parasites that cause African sleeping sickness in tsetse flies. 

The tradition has carried on throughout the twentieth century with Glasgow doctors and scientists discovering the viruses that cause Zika disease and even the first observation of a disease-causing coronavirus. Today, Glasgow boasts an incredibly rich team of investigators into diseases of the developing world.