Can a new heat-resistant vaccine for rotavirus save the lives of half a million children per year? Rotavirus is a highly infectious disease causing severe dehydration, diarrhoea and death. The good news is that it’s highly preventable and there are vaccines. But these vaccines must be kept below 8°C — a tall order when trying to reach children in developing countries where refrigeration options are often very limited.
Now Doctors Without Borders (MSF) teams are working in Niger to conduct a Phase III vaccine trial for a new, cheaper thermostable rotavirus vaccine. The vaccine is heat stable, which means that more kids can be easily treated, and the spread of this devastating scourge can be stemmed. Doctors without Borders, or Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), is an, independent medical humanitarian organization that delivers emergency aid to people affected by armed conflict, epidemics, natural disasters and exclusion.
In Niger, where the trial is being conducted, infectious diseases and child malnutrition remain the principle causes of mortality. This is one of the reasons that Epicentre, MSF’s research and training arm since 1986, founded a second Africa-based center there in 2009. (The first was established in Uganda a decade ago.)
The Niger Research Center is based in Maradi about 600 kilometers from the capital, Niamey. It has a lab, and its staff is equipped to perform large-scale clinical trials, investigate epidemics, conduct prevalence surveys and program monitoring and evaluation activities. There, doctors, epidemiologists, community health workers, biologists and data managers work closely with MSF teams, the Ministry of Public Health, NGOs, the Pasteur Institute, the World Health Organization and other international organizations. Dr. Emmanuel Baron, Director of the Epicentre, stated: “The staff of the Niger research center will benefit greatly from the support from Elsevier. The collaboration will improve the professional development of our staff and help improve the visibility of our work. This collaboration will also send an important message to our staff and all of those that work hard every day to improve the health of the population of Niger.”
But one of the toughest challenges faced by MSF and Epicentre are the often volatile situations in which their doctors, nurses and critical logistics people work. More than ever, these situations underscore the need to build local staff capacity so they can provide high-quality medical care in insecure environments. This trend is also bolstered by MSF’s commitment to support “Southern-driven” research. The Niger Research Center is an essential component of their strategy to provide resources to local populations to bring change in their home countries.
This focus on African-driven global health research is also one of the reasons the Elsevier Foundation has awarded a $300,000, 3-year partnership grant to MSF to support the development of Epicentre’s Niger Research Center. The award underscores Elsevier’s focus on supporting the global research community and the Elsevier Foundation’s programs for global health and research in developing countries.
The grant will support medical and scientific staff training and mentoring and aims to boost the center’s overall visibility by establishing a “ScientificDay” Conference in Niger open to scientists, policymakers and journalists. Elsevier Chairman Youngsuk “YS” Chi, President of the Elsevier Foundation, explained: “We want to support MSF’s mission to provide high-quality medical care to the most vulnerable populations. This work resonates well with the Elsevier Foundation’s focus on supporting the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.”
He went on to say: “We learned a great deal from the 2015 Sustainability Science in a Global Landscape report conducted by Elsevier and SciDev.net, which not only pointed out how rapidly sustainability research is growing, but exposed a significant divide in the amount of sustainability science research coming from low income countries as opposed to high income countries. Only 2 percent of all sustainability science, including global health research, is produced by low-income countries — the same countries experiencing the toughest health challenges. Our partnership aims to support MSF and Epicentre in contributing to Africa-driven health solutions.”
Through a Collaboration Agreement, signed yesterday, Elsevier has also pledged courtesy access to core products and services to MSF and Epicentre: ScienceDirect, our database of over 3,800 Elsevier journals and 35,000 books; Scopus, the world’s largest abstract and citation database of peer-reviewed literature; ClinicalKey, Elsevier’s clinical search engine to find relevant information at the point of care; SciVal, an analytical tool to visualize, benchmark and analyze research trends; Embase, our biomedical database with over 30 million abstracts; and Mendeley, our reference manager and academic social network to organize, share and discover research.
Elsevier CEO Ron Mobed said: “Both Elsevier and MSF share a commitment to advancing healthcare and research in developing and emerging markets. We hope that providing MSF and Epicentre with essential clinical tools such as ClinicalKey and ScienceDirect will equip them with the timely, accurate knowledge they need to develop treatment protocols for doctors, nurses and epidemiologists tackling epidemics, malnutrition, natural disasters and armed conflicts. In short, the work they do is so critical, and we are proud to support it in any way we can.”