Disease Control & Elimination Theme: forging ahead

The Gambia is a leader in elimination research on several important diseases including malaria and trachoma, and The Unit’s Disease Control & Elimination Theme has been working for the past 18 months to consolidate this position both within The Gambia and in the wider sub-region.

Theme Leader Professor Umberto D’Alessandro is pleased with progress. He says ‘We’ve achieved quite a lot in this time, although there’s still a lot to do.’ Umberto has enjoyed considerable success in attracting external project funding. PIs have also been encouraged to submit proposals. ‘We are really targeting the calls where we are more likely to be successful,’ says Umberto ‘and the areas we are more likely to be funded. My advice is understand the specificity of the call – that’s the most important – find out what the funder wants and stick as much as possible to the instructions.’

Professor Umberto d’Alessandro:grants award 2011/2012

  • WHOPES: WHO evaluation of insecticides for residual spraying.
  • Medicine for Malaria Venture: Malaria infection and disease in infants < 6 months of age in The Gambia, Guinea Conakry and Benin.
  • MRC programme grant: Dynamics of malaria transmission in The Gambia.
  • MRC: Prevention of bacterial infections in the newborn by pre-delivery administration of azithromycin; PI Anna Roca.
  • EU FP7 project (consortium). Systematic screening and treatment of pregnant women by community health workers: a community-based trial.
  • MRC/DfID/Wellcome joint global health call: trial primaquine’s gametocytocidal efficacy in malaria asymptomatic carriers to stop malaria transmission.

The acquisition of external funding has been one of the Theme’s major challenges, as well as being a highlight. ‘There was a lot of pressure when I came on board and I spent a lot of time writing and submitting proposals.’ says Umberto. The situation is quite different now. ‘We’ve passed from where there wasn’t much research work ongoing to a phase where we have several grants and there’s a lot of work to do. So the next challenge is to ensure that we comply with the conditions of the proposals.’

Diverse demands on Umberto’s time present additional pressures. ‘Beside the projects at The Unit, I have many ongoing activities, such as the collaboration with the Gambian Ministry of Health’s National Malaria Control Programme, my PhD students in Antwerp, and other projects based in Antwerp. It’s a challenge but we’ll do our best.’

Umberto is grateful to the Theme’s staff for their support and is satisfied with progress over the last year and a half. He is hopeful that the PIs will attract additional funds. And given that the Disease Control & Elimination Theme also includes bacterial diseases, hepatitis B/liver cancer, trachoma and TB epidemiology work, Umberto is also looking forward to more ‘quality time’ with these researchers and their groups. ‘Currently the work load really prevents me from doing that but I’m looking forward to getting together in the near future to have everybody on board and increase the coherence of the theme’s research portfolio.’