Mapping tropical disease: A most critical first step

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The Challenge
Infectious disease remains the leading cause of death and disability in developing countries. The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has one of the largest malaria burdens in the world. To combat this problem, it is important to understand how many people have these diseases and where they live. Using dried blood spots from a 2007 demographic survey, the research team developed national maps of malaria, sleeping sickness, and HIV.


The Solution
The research team, including physicians, epidemiologists, medical geographers, and botanists, mapped the distribution and risk factors for these diseases. Since 2007, there have been a variety of malaria control interventions, each limited to specific geographic regions. Using prevalence maps from 2007 and from 2013, the team will be able to measure the effectiveness of those interventions.


The Impact
  • Better maps of disease prevalence can help direct and evaluate control interventions. Improved targeting has the potential to save lives and use precious resources (therapies, medical personnel, and funds) more effectively.
  • On the basis of the work funded by the GIL, the team obtained almost $500,000 of additional funding from NIH, with which they can assess similar data from a 2013 survey.
  • New methods to look at gene flow and the interaction of disease and environment
  • Educational experience and financial support for a number of graduate students
  • Capacity building within the DRC
  • Six publications in peer-reviewed journals
Next Steps
To use the data from the DRC to develop a web-based mathematical model to predict the relative effectiveness of different interventions in collaboration with Imperial College, United Kingdom.
Steve Meshnick, MD, PhD, professor of epidemiology, UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, says of the team, “We are about as close to practice as research can get.” The multidisciplinary team includes epidemiologists, geographers, molecular biologists and tropical disease experts. Exceptional, too, is the presence of a member from the DRC.
Partners include: Macro-International, Inc., the Institute of Tropical Medicine in Antwerp, the Kinshasa School of Public Health and other experts in the U.S. and the DRC.
Last updated January 15, 2013