The wide-reaching impact of research conducted at MRC Unit The Gambia has been recognised in the recently published report on the Output, outcomes and impact of MRC research: 2013/14, highlighting research carried out at The Unit that has played a key role in influencing policy.
Calcium supplementation (page 33)
In 2006 researchers from the MRC Unit The Gambia, in collaboration with those in the MRC HNR showed that calcium supplementation of pregnant Gambian women had no significant benefit for breast-milk calcium concentrations, or infant birth weight, growth or bone mineral status in the first year of life. The study found for women who are accustomed to a very low calcium diet, increased calcium intake does not increase the transfer of calcium to the offspring, during either foetal life or subsequent breastfeeding. This supports research showing that metabolic adaptations occur during human pregnancy and lactation to provide sufficient calcium for foetal growth and breast-milk production.
These results were followed up with a clinical trial in 2013, which showed that calcium supplementation had no significant effect on either mother’s blood pressure or infant growth.
Researchers from the MRC Unit The Gambia, the MRC HNR and the MRC International Nutrition Group also investigated whether there was an association between maternal calcium supplementation and offspring blood pressure at age five-10 years old. The researchers found no association between maternal calcium supplementation and offspring blood pressure, suggesting that additional calcium was not transferred to the offspring in utero, supporting previous studies.
An MRC study undertaken by researchers in these research groups has however conversely demonstrated that calcium supplementation in Gambian children aged 8-12 may increase bone mineralisation and, ultimately, peak bone mass.
These findings have implications for nutrition policy in The Gambia and other populations with low calcium intake.
Addition of rotavirus vaccine into The Gambia’s Expanded Programme of Immunization (EPI) (page 36)
In August 2013 the Ministry of Health and Social Welfare of The Gambian government formerly introduced the rotavirus vaccine into its Expanded Programme of Immunization (EPI), the eleventh vaccine the country has introduced since it joined the global programme in 1979. The EPI was set up by the World Health Organization in 1974 to ensure that children in all countries receive life-saving immunisations.
Research conducted by the MRC Unit The Gambia played a valuable role in ensuring the rotavirus vaccine was added to the programme. Dr. Jahangir Hossain at the MRC Unit The Gambia was part of an international study that confirmed that rotavirus was the leading cause of diarrhoeal disease among infants in developing countries. The Global Enteric Multicenter Study (GEMS), the largest study ever conducted on diarrhoeal diseases in developing countries, found that approximately one in five children under the age of two suffer from moderate-to-severe diarrhoea each year, increasing children’s risk of death 8.5-fold and leading to stunted growth over a two-month follow-up period.
Rotavirus is responsible for the death of nearly 300 Gambian children under five each year, accounting for approximately one third of all under-five diarrhoeal deaths and diarrhoeal disease hospitalisations in The Gambia. If used in all GAVI-eligible countries rotavirus vaccines could prevent an estimated 180,000 deaths and avert six million clinic and hospital visits each year. Read more here.