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Final Report Summary - VIBE-FGS-EUSAN (Prevention and improved diagnosis of adolescent genital disease in schistosomiasis endemic KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa)

The VIBE-FGS-EUSAN is a consortium of six European and one African University that was established in order to study the gender-based health problem of Female Genital Schistosomiasis (FGS, Bilharzia). The parasite Schistosoma infects 260 million people across the tropical sphere, causing serious disease in at least 20 million people. It is thus the second most important parasite affecting human health, after malaria. The parasite is waterborne, affecting for example women doing laundry or children bathing and playing in rivers. Female Genital Schistosomiasis creates gynaecological contact bleeding, friable blood vessels, inflammation, and ill health. Several studies have found that women with genital schistosomiasis have 3 to 4-fold higher odds ratio of having HIV.

The VIBE-FGS-EUSAN aimed to strengthen research partnership in the consortium. This project sought to investigate if chemotherapy can prevent the development of Female Genital Schistosomiasis morbidity and reduce HIV transmission whilst strengthening the cooperation among partner organisations and develop long-lasting and effective research partnerships at the organisational level.

In the 199 months of exchange 51 people were exchanged, 11 of these were medical doctors who participated as early stage researchers. Participants stayed a median of 4 months and worked in the fields of clinical research, public health / epidemiology, basic laboratory research and in immunology. Three PhDs were completed in this period and the consortium published one booklet for distribution to all health workers in all schistosomiasis endemic areas. The consortium meetings have been held back-to-back with conferences in tropical medicine, HIV and gynaecology, enabling the partners to present, liaise with conference participants and discuss with donors. PhD and Masters Students with abstracts participated in these meetings. We have held planning meetings, yearly courses in ethics, two courses in statistics, laboratory technology transfer and courses in Female Genital Schistosomiasis for gynaecologists and researchers. Research work was performed independently at home institutions and jointly at visiting institutions in a coordinated manner, enabling exchange of best practice. While staying at host institutions, the visiting professors took part in supervision of PhD students at host institutions. This type of knowledge transfer was performed in either a ‘formal’ or an ‘informal’ manner. In a ‘formal’ manner, senior researchers from partner institutions were appointed officially as co-supervisors of student, resulting in tighter cooperation. Informally, senior scientists did not appear as co-supervisors in the dissertation but helped improving the quality of the PhD research work. Moreover, various other activities were arranged which benefited the PhD students on the project and also other research students at the host institution. This was in the format of seminars, lectures and informal “meet the professor” sessions. The goal of educating more qualified PhD candidates was reached in this way.

The exchanged staff learnt new and advanced scientific methods in their field of research, got access good research facilities and high-tech equipment. They learnt interdisciplinary research techniques and use of specialised equipment. Students learnt proposal and report writing. At the host institution many were given the opportunity to be involved in human resource management, publishing, implementation of research ethics and improving management of the research project. All learnt public speaking and communication, how to cope in foreign country and gained new experience of working within an international team. They gained new contacts at the host institutions and other participating institutions.

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