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40 years of tropical epidemiology

28 Mar, 2012
General population survey undertaken by the MRC unit in Uganda

General population survey undertaken by the MRC unit in Uganda

An international symposium on epidemiology and global health also celebrates 40 years of a group dedicated to providing epidemiological and statistical support for tropical medicine projects. Helen Weiss, newly appointed Head of the MRC Tropical Epidemiology Group, looks back on an influential four decades.

Over the past 40 years, the Tropical Epidemiology Group at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine has spearheaded and collaborated in some of the most significant research studies on the epidemiology and control of diseases of public health importance in developing countries.

Our Group was established in 1972 by Professor Patrick Hamilton, with the support of a three-year Wellcome Trust grant. His aim was to provide epidemiological and statistical expertise on projects in tropical medicine and initial work focused on schistosomiasis and onchocerciasis, supporting expatriate scientists in Cameroon and The Gambia. This proved highly effective, and support for the Group transferred to the Medical Research Council (MRC) in 1975, where it has continued through a series of special project and programme grants.

The Tropical Epidemiology Group has now expanded to 34 academic staff, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Wellcome Trust as well as ongoing core support from MRC. Working with partners mainly in Africa, but also in Asia and Latin America, the Group’s aim remains the same as 40 years ago: to contribute to improvements in health of populations in developing countries.

We do this through epidemiological research aimed at identifying effective interventions, and conducting research in these areas in collaboration with colleagues based in the disease-endemic areas.  Studies range from methodological research to proof-of-concept vaccine studies in malaria and pneumonia, and complex randomised trials of health interventions delivered to communities.

The Group gives high priority to increasing the research capacity of developing country scientists. Each year, the Group provides support for an African statistician to attend the MSc. in Medical Statistics at the School, followed by a year’s overseas placement in sub-Saharan Africa. Eight Fellows have so far participated in this programme, going on to careers as medical statisticians in Africa and undertaking further research.

On 29-30 March, we celebrate our anniversary by hosting a two-day symposium on the ongoing effort to control diseases such as malaria, HIV/AIDS, and tuberculosis, as well as maternal, neonatal and child health, and new and future threats to global health. A distinguished panel of speakers will review state-of-the-art of intervention research and stimulate debate through a panel discussion with funders on the major challenges in supporting intervention research, including the rapidly increasing problem of non-communicable diseases in developing countries.

These should present enough challenges for our Group for another 40 years!

Helen Weiss 

Helen Weiss is Head of the Tropical Epidemiology Group at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine.

MRC Tropical Epidemiology Group staff 2010

MRC Tropical Epidemiology Group staff 2010

Image credits: London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine

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