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17th May 2016

Manchester medical students travel to Madagascar to study and treat infectious disease

After a successful expedition to Madagascar in 2015, a group will return to the remote area to assess the impact of schistosomiasis

On the 20th May, the Manchester-based MadEx2016 team will be flying out to Madagascar. Their aim is to study and treat parasitic disease schistosomiasis in infected children living in one of the most remote areas of the world.

Globally, 243 million people are infected with schistosomiasis. The long-term consequences of this disease can be devastating, leading to severe anaemia and cancer.

The team is made up of recent Manchester graduate Dr. Stephen Spencer, James Penney, Corty Linder and Hannah Russell—all medical students at the University of Manchester. Stephen founded this project back in 2013, and it has taken Stephen and the team, including original team member Anthony Howe, and also Kate Millichamp and Mark Lewis, over two years to organise.

Last summer, the team visited the Marolambo region in Madagascar for the first MadEx expedition. The team sat in the back of huge camions and hiked through stunning scenery with heavy research kit before being welcomed into Malagasy communities. They took urine and faecal samples from children and used microscopes in the field to look for the presence of parasitic eggs. The team trekked between villages fuelled by rice and beans, before heading back to the capital, Antananarivo, to collate their data.

The expedition was a huge success and results showed that 94 per cent of children were infected with schistosomiasis.

The expedition was a fantastic experience and opened the team’s eyes to the world of research and the possibilities of medical work in remote, unknown places. They found that being entirely responsible for a project and coming away with useful data was extremely rewarding.

Since the first expedition, the team has been busy planning the follow-up research trip, which has official approval and support from The Royal Geographical Society, Madagascar Ministry of Health, the University of Manchester, the University of Antananarivo and the World Health Organisation.

This year’s main aims are to assess the impact that this potentially deadly infection is having on the communities. The team will use ultrasound to monitor effects of the disease on the livers of the children, fitness tests, and finger-prick tests for anaemia. Education programmes will be delivered to teach basic hygiene and infection control, and to improve local understanding of schistosomiasis. Finally, they will be taking the medicine Praziquantel with them in order to treat those infected.

The team hopes to return each year to reassess the impact of schistosomiasis. The long-term aim is to liaise with both governmental and non-governmental organisations to control schistosomiasis in this part of Madagascar.

Follow the team’s progress on their blog or donate to their crowdfunding page.

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