Issued: Thu, 29 Aug 2019 11:15:00 BST
Participants from Cameroon, Ghana, Iran, Israel, Lebanon, Nigeria, Tunisia, Sudan, and Syria attended the fourth annual Middle Eastern Biology of Parasitism (MeBOP) summer school at the University of Bern in Switzerland between 29 July and 14 August.
MeBOP is an advanced, two-week course for early career scientists from across the Middle East, as well as from North and Sub-Saharan Africa, who are interested in the biology of parasites and motivated by the potential of collaboration across all borders.
The Institute of Infection, Immunity, and Inflammation's Dr Lilach Sheiner and Dr Omar Harb of the University of Pennsylvania founded the initiative in 2016 to create an opportunity for scientists from conflicting backgrounds to meet and share ideas.
Following the recent fortnight of informative morning lectures and cutting-edge afternoon practicals, the class of 2019 graduation ceremony was hosted by the Swiss ministry of foreign affairs, the Swiss academies of Arts and Science, and Bern University.
The Swiss Foreign Ministry's Stefan Estermann, head of the division for sectoral foreign policies, said: "On behalf of the Swiss Government, we are very proud that the University of Bern hosts this initiative in Switzerland.
“During two weeks, students work together, no matter where they come from, showing that science has no borders. I hope that they will keep their friendships alive, stay in contact for the future and continue to strive for excellence and international cooperation to create a culture of peace.”
Dr Sheiner said: "We are hopeful that this course will make a difference by contributing to the enhancement of regional collaboration in research and beyond."
Dr Harb added: "We are very grateful for the contributions of time and resources by supporters of MeBoP. The volunteer spirit of scientists to support and enable a project like MeBoP is heart-warming."
Student Zahra Rezaei from Iran, who is currently working towards a PhD in medical parasitology, extolled the virtues of the MeBOP experience: “I am grateful to Omar and Lilach for teaching us that humanity is beyond politics.
"I hope that one day all boundaries will be removed from the path of science and that all researchers can communicate in a cooperative and friendly manner because we will not survive without cooperation."
Dr Sheiner explained: "I, an Israeli, set up MeBoP with Dr Omar Harb, a Palestinian, after we met through our mutual scientific interests and became friends.
"One of our main motivations was to create an opportunity for scientists from conflicting political/cultural/religious backgrounds to get to know each other.
"We decided to do this in the same way we met – through science. Our aim has been to create an excellent scientific and networking program for promising young scientists in the parasitology field. Those who attend also sign up in support of these wider goals.
"We hope that when collaborations like this start becoming fruitful in solving local problems, they will induce also leaders and governments to consider the benefits of local international relationships in the region.
"Parasitic diseases are important causes of death and morbidity in this part of the world, yet little training exists. Parasites do not respect borders, so this course is crucial for setting up future collaborations that will hopefully help to control and ultimately, eradicate these diseases.
"Without regional collaboration there cannot be eradication."
- The next MeBOP summer school is scheduled to take place in July - August 2020 and will rely heavily on donations and volunteers. If you are in a position to do so, please considering supporting their efforts with a contribution: