”There's a lot of merit in bringing medicines to people who can't reach them themselves, but it's sort of putting a bandaid on the situation and I realized that only through scientific discovery will we really make huge changes that impact large populations of people. So that's why I started doing research and global health, specifically dengue virus and Zika virus.” —Dr. Melanie McCauley
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More than 40 percent of the world's population, in more than 100 countries, are at risk of dengue infection. Each year, an estimated 390 million dengue infections occur around the world.
Dengue recently made its way from India to Nepal, but the resource-poor country does not have enough health care and epidemiological workers with dengue expertise to meet the challenge nor the equipment and supplies to control the vector mosquito, Aedes aegypti.
For the last two years, infectious disease expert Dr. Melanie McCauley has been working closely with the team of Krishna Manandhar, Ph.D., a professor at Tribhuvan University in Kathmandu, the country’s premier research university, to build local research capacity that's on par with Western universities.
The collaboration was initiated by Dr. Sujan Shresta, a professor at La Jolla Institute for Immunology, to increase Nepal's cadre of dengue experts by helping them acquire the necessary virologic and immunologic skills needed to study and halt the spread of dengue in Nepal.
“Sabita is a master's student at TU university in Kathmandu. She has been working with us for the past two years and it's really been a rewarding relationship. When I first met her last year, she was an entry masters students and since that time we've really watched her blossom into a scientist.”
The experience also transformed Dr. McCauley. “One of the ways that this work has shaped me has really been to put a spotlight on how I was raised and to highlight the differences and what that means to people from other contexts. When we have self awareness, it's easier to reach out to other people and find ways to communicate and compromise and work together.”
The partnership helped build a local dengue research network that includes physicians at Shukraraaj Infectious Disease Hospital.
Dengue virus is rapidly moving from tropical to temperate climate zones. Nepal with its varied terrain within a small geographical area provides a unique opportunity for sample collection to study the spread of the virus.
Chitwan is located in the tropical plains region of the country and only ninety-seven kilometers from Kathmandu.
The assistance of local clinics, who identify dengue patients and collect blood samples, is crucial for the sucess of the research project.
"One of the best parts and most assuring parts of this partnership that I've been able to develop with Dr. Shresta is that we have the same philosophy that to work in other countries is to partner with them."
A close partnership ensures that all procedures follow international protocol and adhere to the highest standards.
If building local research capacity leads to new insights into dengue due to the unique ecological niche in Nepal, the collaboration could serve as a great model system for other underserved regions in the world.
“I pursued this career in global health and it's really the thing that makes me excited about work every day. The ability to help people and to use what I've been given, to use everything around me to help those people is an honor.”
"Lots of people have questions for me, why I choose global health and they have a hard time imagining themselves going to some of the places where I've been and doing the kind of work that I do and they wonder why it's worth it, but I think that when you travel to those places, you meet the people and you see their suffering. You want to do anything you can to help."
Sabita will be visiting La Jolla Institute for Immunology in 2019 to continue her academic pursuits.
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