Africa Center of Excellence ACE2

£7 million grant to boost research into ‘ignored’ diseases

The work of Addis Ababa University’s Africa Centre of Excellence for Innovative Drug Development & Therapeutic Trials for Africa (CDT-Africa) in partnership with the Global Health Research Unit at Brighton and Sussex Medical School (BSMS) on some of the most ‘ignored’ neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), has been given a boost with an award of £7 million funding over five years by the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR).

The new grant will fund research projects based in Ethiopia, Sudan and Rwanda, working on three NTDs (podoconiosis, mycetoma and scabies). Together, these conditions affect millions of vulnerable people in poor communities in low-income countries, and they are mostly ignored by other research groups.

Principal Investigator, Professor in Infectious Diseases and Global Health at BSMS, Melanie Newport said: “This grant will enable us to continue our work on these debilitating and stigmatising conditions that affect millions of the world’s poorest people. She added, “Central to our approach is to train and empower future researchers from Ethiopia, Sudan and Rwanda, and strengthen capacity to do similar research in all three countries that will lead to the elimination of diseases and improve the health and wealth of affected populations.”

Podoconiosis is a progressive form of leg swelling often seen in barefoot farmers. Mycetoma is a slow-growing, destructive infection of the skin and underlying tissues. Scabies is a profoundly irritating infectious skin condition caused by tiny mites burrowing into the skin and occurs in outbreaks in vulnerable communities.

These conditions are all painful, disabling and reduce mobility which has a severe negative impact on productivity at household, community and national levels. They are associated with high levels of stigma which creates social isolation, reduces opportunities for education and increases the risk of poor mental health. Knowledge of these neglected diseases within health care systems is often inadequate. Diagnosis and treatment options are limited and the cost of accessing health care to ease symptoms can be prohibitively expensive.

Co-Principal Investigator and Head of the Africa Centre of Excellence for Medical Discovery & Clinical Trials (CDT-Africa) at Addis Ababa University, Professor Abebaw Fekadu added: “I am really excited about this grant because it has given us an opportunity to continue the exemplary partnership between Addis Ababa University and BSMS.

“It is also an opportunity to build on our excellent work over the past four years, in which we have been able to demonstrate that effective care for these highly stigmatising and neglected conditions can be provided through integrated healthcare. This makes care provision both affordable and scalable. The capacity building opportunities in the three low- and middle-income countries will also ensure sustainability of impact.”

The scientific goals of the research include: improving ability to diagnose, prevent and treat podoconiosis; developing tools to prevent mycetoma – there is no effective treatment; and strengthening the ability of low income countries to respond to scabies outbreaks. Research is organised into four interrelated themes:

mechanisms of disease, geospatial mapping, diagnostics and drug development, and implementation research. It will support training for seven PhD students and 13 post-doctoral researchers in endemic countries.