Middle East Biology of Parasitism (MeBoP) – bringing scientists together from areas of conflict

For the third consecutive year, Dr. Lilach Sheiner of the WCMP and Dr Omar Harb of the University of Pennsylvania, organised and ran MeBOP, a 2-week course introducing early career scientists from all over the Middle East to the biology of parasites - and to one another. MeBOP is held at the University of Bern in Switzerland. Dr Sheiner, one of the two founders of this initiative, describes its mission.

Many countries in the Middle East are experiencing conflict and tension, often due to the actions of governments or community leaders. One of the factors that allows conflict to continue is the ease with which people can develop negative feeling toward strangers. However, the more people have positive personal interactions with those outside their communities, the less supportive they are of conflict promoting policies. One of the goals of MeBoP is to provide a neutral environment where young people from the Middle East and North and Sub Saharan Africa can make friends – as well as learning more about parasites.

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 for setting it up was to create an opportunity for scientists from conflicting political/cultural/religious backgrounds to meet and 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 sign up for course, also sign up in support of these wider goals.

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. 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.

Among the participants in MeBoP this summer was Farah Hamdan. She tells us about her experience.

My path to Bern wasn’t a short one. There were several obstacles, but it ended happily.

I first applied to take part in the course in 2016. Unfortunately, my application was rejected but this made me determined to make a better application in 2017. This second application was accepted by the course scientific selection committee but unfortunately my visa to travel to Switzerland was rejected. In 2018 I finally made it and honestly, I would do the whole thing all over again without thinking because this summer school was everything I thought it would be - and more. I believe in the goals of this course and as diseases have no borders, neither should its fighters.

During the course we had two lectures every morning, covering a wide spectrum of parasitology and important parasites such as Plasmodium, Toxoplasma, Leishmania, and Schistosoma. These were informative and enjoyable and were given by world class experts who volunteered to come and share their knowledge with us. During the afternoon we had practical, hands-on modules. I felt these sessions were extremely important and equipped us with a wide spectrum of skills.

One of the most important aspects of this course was the chance to be part of a network of scientists with various expertise, different backgrounds - all sharing the same passion. This small community is getting bigger each year, which increases the chances of future collaborations. Sometimes it’s easy to let your passion fade away, especially when you live/work in an unsupportive environment, but meeting these outstanding, accomplished, hardworking people helped ignite that flame again, and challenged me to jump out of my comfort zone and awaken my inner, microbiology loving nerd!

Mebop 2018 Farah Hamdan
Farah receiving her course certificate from Dr Omar Harb and Dr Lilach Sheiner

Now that I am back home, I am tremendously enthusiastic and willing to apply lots of what I’ve learned in my classes for the next year. I am now armed with fresh knowledge and skills that will help me with my next project. Being a part of an international scientific network will surely benefit my future career. As well as the course itself, spending time in Switzerland was an amazing experience. Things that I particularly enjoyed: the hostel and its mesmerizing Aare view; being lost trying to explore the beautiful Bern; meeting new people and learning something new every day.

One of the best things however, was the people whom I’ve shared these amazing two weeks with: all 2018 MeBoPers, Dr. Sheiner, Dr. Harb, Eva, Mehdi and Dr. Isabel Roditi our generous host. During this course I felt challenged and at times, excited, overwhelmed, delighted…etc. but I was ALWAYS inspired. I think what sets MeBoP apart from other courses and meetings is the family-like atmosphere created by the organizers and instructors. It felt like we’ve known them all already and this was a crucial factor that made this experience much more fun and much less stressful.

Hopefully MeBoP will go on with much more sustainable funds, so that more students can come and have this magical scientific/cultural trip, make lots of new friends and create lots of fond memories.


MeBoP2018 was generously supported by Wellcome, the Wellcome Centre for Molecular Parasitology, the University of Glasgow, the University of Bern, Regeneron, Para Tryp, Burroughs Wellcome Fund, Fund for Advancement of Science and Medicine

Stay tuned for the call for applications for MeBoP 2019: 

First published: 6 September 2018