Networking to improve global health

Oct 8, 2018, 20:15 PM by Jessica Wyble

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Fast-spreading. Debilitating. Ever-evolving.
Infectious diseases know no limits and continue to be a rising threat to global health. 

Aiming to get ahead of this dangerous trend and further UTMB’s mission to improve the health of the people of Texas and beyond, UTMB’s Dr. Peter Melby, director of both the Division of Infectious Diseases and the Center for Tropical Diseases, has been working diligently with his colleagues in the Department of Internal Medicine to organize and guide the efforts of the Global Infectious Disease Research Network, an initiative funded by the Office of the Provost. 

Originally formed in 2017 during a two-day meeting on UTMB’s Galveston Campus, the group aims to promote collaborative international infectious disease research, while building mutually beneficial, sustainable and synergistic relationships among investigators. Melby and his colleagues were intentional when setting the groundwork for the group, which has representatives from Colombia, Peru, Mexico, the U.S. and the Dominican Republic. 

“When planning last year’s inaugural meeting, we invited people who were from international sites that had some history of partnering with UTMB in the past. We didn’t want to start from scratch, but instead build on what we were already doing,” said Melby. “From those conversations, the group felt like a common strength and interest was in the study of vector-borne diseases like Zika, chikungunya and dengue fever, so from there we built the network and its focus.” 

To continue and build upon its momentum, the network recently convened in Medellin, Colombia, at the Universidad de Antioquia for its second annual meeting. The group used this time to discuss the guidelines for collaborating and sharing information. Representatives also worked to elect a steering committee to help guide the group’s work, which will include a multi-site research study that will be starting in the coming months to investigate the causes of febrile illness in the tropics. 

Up until this time, the network was led by a temporary organizing committee that included Melby along with UTMB’s Drs. Patricia Aguilar, Miguel Cabada and David Walker, as well as international partners Drs. Juan Rodas of Colombia, Hugo Lopez- Gatell and Ygnacio Martínez-Laguna of Mexico, Karen Mozo of Peru and Daniel Martiche of the U.S., but the 2018 meeting served as the official leadership transition. 

The meeting served as a chance for attendees to discuss and understand that the network is a mutually beneficial initiative that will help all institutions and individuals involved, as well as global health as a whole—not just UTMB. 

To further enhance the partnership, the organizing committee paired the recent meeting with a four-day grant writing workshop aimed at building communications skills. 

One of the goals of the network is to build the infrastructure and capacity of the partnering sites, which vary in size from large, established universities to smaller clinical partners who might lack some of the resources and access that others have. 

“The idea behind the workshop is to help our partners strengthen their ability to attract research funding that will ultimately strengthen the network and our collaborative efforts,” said Melby. 

Looking ahead, the network’s focus is preparing for the multi-site study. A third annual meeting is already penciled in for summer 2019, although the location is still to be determined.