For the first time, after eight years of collaborative work, results are published in Lancet Infectious Disease describing the positive impact of the introduction of pneumococcal conjugate vaccines in a low-income country. But how do you go about measuring this ‘impact’? Principal Investigator of the Pneumococcal Surveillance Project at MRC Unit, The Gambia, Dr Grant Mackenzie, explains the human resource required for large-scale disease surveillance in rural Africa, the challenges and the rewards.
The study team
Pneumococcal disease is caused by a bacterium known as Streptococcus pneumoniae. Symptoms range from sinus and ear infections to pneumonia, bloodstream infections, and meningitis. The pneumococcus bacteria cause more deaths in children worldwide than any other single microorganism and those in low-income countries are particularly at risk.
MRC Unit, The Gambia has conducted pneumococcal research for over two decades. It started with a disease burden study in 1989, in the Basse area in the rural east of The Gambia, which established the substantial burden of invasive pneumococcal disease.
Stephen Howie, a doctor and researcher at MRC Unit, The Gambia, recently received a grant from the MRC Developmental Pathway Funding Scheme to develop and test a low-maintenance oxygen supply system for children with pneumonia and other diseases. Here he explains why traditional oxygen cylinders don’t fare well in developing countries, and what he plans to do about it.
A prototype oxygen system to deliver oxygen to up to five children where mains power is not reliable. Pictured in the foreground from left to right: Ebrima Nyassi (a biomedical engineering technologist at the unit), Bev Bradley, Stephen Howie and David Peel (standing).
I joined the MRC’s unit in The Gambia in 2003, a fresh-faced paediatrician from New Zealand, excited to be in a place where need and expertise meet to save children’s lives. Ten years later I’m still excited about this place for that very reason.
One day, early on, I was seeing children at the government hospital in the capital, Banjul. The staff there told me about the struggle they had to make sure that oxygen was available to children with severe pneumonia and other serious illnesses. Pneumonia is the number one cause of death in children worldwide, and it affects those in developing countries far, far more often than in other countries. Severe pneumonia stops the lungs doing their job of getting vital oxygen to the body properly, and giving oxygen can save lives. The staff at the hospital were just managing, but efforts to try to improve their system for oxygen delivery had not quite worked. Read more