University targets neglected African diseases

Researchers from Africa have arrived at the University of Glasgow to map out new ways to tackle killer diseases that that afflict humans and livestock.

Representatives of universities and research institutions from The Gambia, Burkino-Faso, Cameroon, Angola, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia are meeting with scientists from the Wellcome Centre for Molecular Parasitology at the University of Glasgow.

The aim of the two-day conference, held on March 27 and 28, is to help define priorities for research and areas of common interest where links would provide a boost to collaborative research activities aimed at improving disease control.

Professor Dave Barry, the Director of the Centre said: “It is critical to develop effective partnerships with African institutions if they are to benefit from all the recent high-tech advances and play a central role in directing the focus of research activity towards practical solutions. This meeting is a step towards these goals.”

The three main infectious diseases – Malaria, TB and HIV/AIDS - have received a high political and funding profile over the last decade but it is only recently that international leaders have recognised the importance of some of the other diseases that create major health problems worldwide.

President George W Bush, on his recent visit to Africa pledged $350million to work on neglected diseases and encouraged the other G8 partners to make similar contributions.

The targeted diseases include those caused by worms - river blindness, snail fever, elephantiasis and soil helminthiases - and a number of other equally important neglected diseases caused by protozoan parasites.

In addition, the Glasgow meeting will highlight the importance of including livestock diseases whose control is critical if poverty in Africa is to be reduced.

In order to improve the control of these neglected diseases in Africa research is needed on the distribution of the diseases, the most effective control methods, the distribution of drug resistance, the development of vaccines and the identification of new drugs.

Besides addressing these topics, the Glasgow meeting will seek to form strategic partnerships with research scientists in the countries where the diseases occur, strengthening African research capability.

The Wellcome Centre and associated departments in Glasgow represent one of the largest groupings of scientists working on tropical parasitic diseases in Europe and this meeting will aim to link this expertise with that of scientists in Africa to produce effective partnerships to improve disease control in Africa.

Pro Vice-Principal Peter Holmes, who leads the University’s Centre for International Development said: “The University of Glasgow is committed to developing stronger research links internationally and this meeting will greatly facilitate closer partnerships with colleagues in many African countries.”

First published: 27 March 2008

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