In French Guiana, as the distance between the expanding human habitat and the surrounding ecosystem is reduced, this has the potential to expose the population to new viruses and bacteria. European scientists are exploring how to improve research infrastructure and capacity to tackle the emerging threat of infectious disease in French Guiana and boost public health in the region.
© Fotolia, 2012
French Guiana is an outermost region of the European Union and the only one located in the Amazonian forest complex of South America. Outbreaks or epidemics of various origins – viral, parasitic or bacterial – are an emerging threat to its booming population. Socio-economic, environmental and ecological changes have impacted on infectious cycles of pathogens, vectors (disease carriers) and reservoir animals in the country. These conditions, in turn, have exposed human beings to diseases they do not usually come into contact with.
To address the challenges facing the people of French Guiana, several field research units – with the support of teams from continental Europe – have joined together to create the Strengthening trans-disciplinary research on emerging infectious diseases in French Guiana (Stronger) project.
The project, funded by the EU's FP7 Research Potential programme, is run by a consortium headed by the Institut Pasteur de la Guyane. The team is working on strengthening scientific excellence and increasing the visibility of the consortium members in the field of infectious and emerging diseases. The project's findings are likely to have a major impact not only in French Guiana, but on public health decisions in the surrounding regions and beyond.
Helping Guiana to help itself
The Stronger project is working towards increasing the research capacity of frontline research centres at institutes such as Cayenne General Hospital and the National Centre for Scientific Research in French Guiana. This can be achieved through a recruitment programme and the purchase of state-of-the-art equipment which can improve diagnostic and research processes.
"The experienced researchers we have hired will help define new areas of research regarding infectious and emerging diseases," says Angélina Azanza, Stronger's project manager. "Most of them already have international experience and we expect them to bring new protocols which will see local scientists benefit from this collaboration."
According to Ms Azanza, new equipment for the medical entomology ('insectarium') lab at the Institut Pasteur de la Guyane will enhance its research capabilities and improve its work on the effects of control methods, such as insecticides, and the resistance of insects like mosquitos.
The recruitment process and improvements in infrastructure will help researchers in French Guiana to acquire new knowledge in the field of infectious diseases by bringing together the best minds and providing them with the technology they need to advance their work.
Results from this research will then be disseminated throughout the local research community and the European Research Area – the system of scientific research programmes integrating the European Union's scientific resources – with the aim of improving public health in all areas of the world where infectious diseases create a threat to humans.
"We have already organised two seminars featuring internationally renowned scientists – one on organic chemistry and one on high-throughput sequencing, which is a fast, cheap way to sequence and analyse the genomes of viruses and bacteria," explains Ms Azanza. "Local teams of researchers have so far been very enthusiastic, as seminars such as these allow them to discuss with scientists from all around the world in order to exchange experiences and competences."