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Neglected disease research in Lao PDR -- capacity building in Burundi

R. Geigy Prize 2014 awarded to Somphou Sayasone

Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute

The R. Geigy Foundation honours two scientific endeavours in neglected disease research and public health. It confers the R. Geigy Award (10'000 CHF) to the Laotian scientists Somphou Sayasone and the Jubilee Award (70'000) to the project "Connecting the Dots" proposed by the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute (Swiss TPH).

Latrine construction and neglected worm infections

Somphou Sayasone completed his PhD at Swiss TPH/University of Basel in 2009. He works as a public health expert at the National Institute of Public Health in Vientiane, the capital city of Lao PDR. Sayasone seeks new ways to improve the health of the Laotian population with a special focus on helminth diseases. Large numbers of the country's population still suffer from chronic worm infections caused by a lack of proper sanitation.

In collaboration with Swiss TPH, Somphou Sayasone could show that the provision of latrines leads to a reduction of schistosoma infestation from 58% to 20%. These nasty flukes cause bilharzia, a parasitic disease of the liver, gastrointestinal tract and the bladder. In large parts of the country, sanitation is still lacking. Lack of hygiene or swimming or fishing in infested water makes people especially vulnerable to infection. Sayasone's work lays the ground for future health development programs.

Somphou Sayasone was among the first who detected the prevalence of food-born worm infections in the Laotian population. When people consume raw fish, the germs find their way into the human body where they affect the gastrointestinal tract. Untreated, such infections could be fatal.

"This prize has great meaning to me," says Sayasone. "But most importantly, it also indicates to policy-makers the importance of this research."

Training of Health Professionals in Burundi

The RGS is sponsoring a special Jubilee Award to honour the 70 years of success of Swiss TPH. The 70'000 CHF award supports an innovative proposal linking the expertise of different departments to go along the chain form innovation to validation to implementation. In collaboration with the National School of Public Health of Burundi, the award-winning project „Connecting the Dots" proposes comprehensive training modules to increase managerial and financial capacities local health professionals.

Swiss TPH too profits from these efforts because the Great Lakes Region (Rwanda, Burundi, DR Congo) has become a major hub of the institute's activities. "This project really opens up new prospects," says Manfred Zahorka from the Swiss Centre for International Health (SCIH) and promoter of the project. Not only will this help to facilitate other Swiss TPH projects with better skilled personal. "Teaching at these institutions also helps to spread the professional image of Swiss TPH in the several countries."

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