Once again, the TropIKA.net team has been out and about. We have provided in-depth coverage of Forum 2009, the latest conference of the Global Forum for Health Research (GFHR) held in Cuba. Highlights from our in-depth reports include interviews with Anthony Mbewu, President of the Medical Research Council, South Africa and next Executive Director of GFHR. He described his plans for moving the global health research agenda forward and also the steps now being taken to establish a biotechnology platform in South Africa.
Also interviewed was Carlos Morel, Director of the Center for Technological Development in Health at Fiocruz, Brazil. He discussed the difficulties in transferring innovations in health technology developed in one part of the South to other countries, where circumstances may be very different.
Forum 2009 made it possible for delegates to exchange their sometimes very different views on innovative approaches to health. For example a session on digital health care in rural India led to some lively exchanges.
Testing the tests
Rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs) will, it is hoped, play a major part in advancing efforts towards the elimination of malaria. The successful management of other infectious diseases of poverty would also benefit from the development of simple, affordable tests that can be used on the front line of care. However, such tests must themselves be tested for their accuracy and, when tests are tested, rigour is required both in the conduct of the work involved and in its reporting. It is therefore disturbing to read the findings of a review evaluating the quality and reporting of diagnostic accuracy studies in TB, HIV and malaria. It would appear that the required rigour has been lacking in much of the testing so far conducted. This does of course raise again the question of how much we can depend on the RDTs themselves.
The dependability of the drug supply has for many years been a topic of great concern – a large proportion of the drugs available in developing countries are faked or substandard. It is good news that efforts to control counterfeiting are to receive a boost with new support from USAID.
For some neglected infections, the drugs that are really needed do not yet exist. This is particularly the case for the three kinetoplastid diseases: Chagas disease, human African trypanosomiasis and leishmaniasis. The Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative (DNDi) continues its remarkable work in the search for new treatments and a few days ago announced a collaboration with drug giant Pfizer, which will allow screening of its library of compounds to identify any that may have potential for use against these three diseases.
Other new developments also featured on TropIKA.net include Brazilian research demonstrating that the movement of people may be more important than previously thought in the transmission of dengue fever; the findings suggest that the disease is often transmitted outside the home, for example at school or in public spaces. And from Nigeria there is worrying news that the savannah-dwelling blackflies that transmit blinding onchocerciasis are becoming more common in the southwest of the country. Meanwhile, from southeast Asia comes the unwelcome, though predictable, news that resistance to the key antimalarial artemisinin has now spread from the Cambodia–Thailand border to China, Myanmar and Vietnam.
Facilitating communication between professionals seeking to address the infectious diseases of poverty is at the centre of our efforts on TropIKA.net and we are well aware of the dominance of English as the medium in which most communication on global health takes place. We welcome the news that the Portuguese-speaking health community will benefit from a newly launched email forum.