December 11, 2017
A Japanese expert and local researchers conduct an experiment at Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research.(Photo: JICA/Akio Iizuka)
The Ebola outbreak in West Africa caused great international attention and concern in 2014. Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research (NMIMR) in Ghana played an important role in preventing the spread of the outbreak through tests in suspected cases in neighboring countries. It has been the central laboratory in West Africa for infectious disease control, with contributions from JICA for many years. Preparedness for health emergencies, seen in outbreaks of infectious diseases, is an important element to achieving Universal Health Coverage (UHC).
This article, Part 3 of the series "Health for All," shows some examples of JICA’s contributions to strengthening the network of infectious disease research laboratories with human resource development to fight against such infectious diseases as HIV/AIDS, malaria, tuberculosis, yellow fever and Ebola.
The 'Health for All' series
A microscope used by Hideyo Noguchi can be found at the NMIMR. (Photo: JICA/ Kenshiro Imamura)
Approximately 9.5 million people die every year from infectious diseases*1. JICA has expanded cooperation for the establishment and improvement of infectious disease laboratories in Africa, Asia, Latin America and elsewhere.
One outstanding among them is the NMIMR, which JICA contributed to establishing in 1979 in Ghana in memory of Dr. Hideyo Noguchi (1876 to 1928), who contributed to the development of the medical community by devoting his life to research on yellow fever in West Africa in the last century*2. A commemorative symposium was held this November in Ghana to mark the 90th anniversary of his arrival in Ghana.
Surveillance is significantly important for preventing infectious disease outbreaks and epidemics. Since 2016, JICA, together with the NMIMR and Ghana Health Service, Ghanaian medical authorities, has been carrying out the Project for Surveillance and Laboratory Support for Emerging Pathogens of Public Health Importance in collaboration with the Institute of Medical Science, the University of Tokyo; the National Institutes of Infectious Diseases (Japan) and Mie University Hospital. The Project aims to strengthen the surveillance structure with basic research on intestinal bacteria. New pathogenic bacteria are expected to be found through the Project.
At the NMIMR, JICA is contributing to building an additional laboratory with a containment structure that prevents pathogens from external exposure. The construction is expected to be completed in 2018, which will strengthen a further leading role in the West African region.
JICA is now strengthening regional and global partnerships among laboratories JICA has cooperated with for many years, such as NMIMR.
Labs supported by JICA in various countries
The Partnership for Building Resilience against Public Health Emergencies through Advanced Research and Education (PREPARE) began this year to prepare for threatening pandemics. It aims at institutional capacity development, specialized human resource development and regional and global partnership. The new cooperation under PREPARE will include training at the NMIMR for officials from Sierra Leone and Liberia, Ebola—affected countries, with others from Nigeria and Ghana, to strengthen surveillance systems in West Africa. JICA will expand such cooperation to other African countries and to Asia and Latin America.
Luvai Elizabeth Ajema, right, does research with her supervising professor in a lab at Nagasaki University
The foundation of the network is the human resources underpinning the network. Infectious disease control would be much more effective if there were a global network among researchers, policy makers and organizations.
Based on the PREPARE concept, in 2017, JICA launched a new long-term training program in Japan in which participants aim to acquire a doctorate or master's degree in the field of infectious disease control.
In November, 10 participants from Kenya, Zambia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo arrived in Japan to join a program provided by Nagasaki University and Hokkaido University. Luvai Elizabeth Ajema, who is learning virology at the Nagasaki University Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences, is a researcher at the Kenya Medical Research Institute.
"Appropriate diagnosis and treatment are important to reduce mortality caused by infectious diseases. I want to acquire broad knowledge and skills for infectious diseases control," she said.
This program is designed to accept approximately 14 participants per year for the next 10 years.