JCU to fight disabling tropical diseases with WHO

26 October 2017

The World Health Organization (WHO) has picked James Cook University as a partner to battle diseases that kill more than a million people and make more than a billion people sick every year.

JCU to fight disabling tropical diseases with WHO
The Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine (Image: JCU)

JCU’s College of Public Health, Medical and Veterinary Sciences (CPHMVS) has been designated a WHO Collaborating Centre for Vector-borne and Neglected Tropical Diseases (VBDs and NTDs)—recognising a long history of collaboration with WHO and providing a formal framework for future joint activities.

For the past 20 years JCU has been a WHO Collaborating Centre (WHOCC) for the Control of Lymphatic Filariasis, Soil-Transmitted Helminths and other Neglected Tropical Diseases.

Professor Peter Leggat, co-Director of the new WHOCC said the new designation means JCU will be broadening its remit to include the control of some of the world’s most neglected tropical diseases, such as dengue and leprosy.

“We are thrilled to be working ever more closely with WHO and our network of partners towards controlling and eliminating some of these serious tropical diseases. The designation reflects our historic contributions to WHO, and our broad expertise and deep commitment in the field,” he said.

“Through the CPHMVS and the Australian Institute of Tropical Health and Medicine (AITHM), JCU has established itself as a leading academic centre globally in education and research in tropical health and medicine,” said Professor Leggat.

“The WHOCC’s expertise will be extremely valuable in supporting WHO’s capacity to implement its mandated work in the global control of tropical diseases, for example in its long-term vision of a world free from blinding trachoma and leprosy,” he said.

“The burden caused by vector borne diseases, which account for 1/6th of human illnesses and disability suffered worldwide, and neglected tropical diseases, many of which are carried by vectors like mosquitoes and ticks, account for at least 11% of the global burden of disease. Some of them occur in tropical and subtropical Australia, such as trachoma, intestinal worms and dengue,” said Professor Maxine Whittaker, co-Director of the new WHOCC.

“We know that neglected tropical diseases affect neglected populations: the 1.4 billion people who are classified as the world’s poorest, and for whom accessible health services, clean water and good sanitation, are not available. Every year there are more than 1 billion cases and over 1 million deaths from vector-borne diseases, globally,” she said.

Professor Whittaker said the college will support WHO’s capacity building priorities for effective control of vector borne and neglected tropical diseases, including the scale-up and evaluation of WHO-recommended surveillance and response, control and elimination strategies.

“In addition to their impact on health, vector borne and neglected tropical diseases contribute to an immense social and economic burden and can perpetuate the cycle of poverty. However, many of these diseases are easily preventable, and may be eliminated with improved water and sanitation, vector control, and universally accessible primary health care, as part of the sustainable development goals.

“The WHOCC will support a holistic and interdisciplinary approach to people’s health and well-being,” said Professor Whittaker.

She said JCU will also continue to work in the field of elimination of lymphatic filariasis (elephantiasis).

Professor Whittaker said in addition to the invaluable work of providing assistance to affected countries and peoples, the WHOCC has the potential to provide placements and work integrated learning opportunities for JCU students as well as research education and research collaborations.

Professor Peter Leggat, AM, is Professor in Public Health and Tropical Medicine and currently President of The Australasian College of Tropical Medicine.

Professor Maxine Whittaker is the Dean of the College and Deputy Director of the AITHM.

JCU has one of the largest postgraduate programs in public health in Australia with more than 900 students enrolled. Courses include a popular Master of Public Health and Tropical Medicine program and these courses have received national and international recognition.

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