The UPC co-drafts a pilot plan to improve tuberculosis control in Nigeria

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Global incidence of tuberculosis (©WHO 2017)

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Clara Prats, researcher of the Computational Biology and Complex Systems research group (BIOCOM-SC)

Researchers from the Barcelona School of Agricultural Engineering (ESAB) on the Baix Llobregat Campus in Castelldefels are co-drafting a pilot plan to improve the diagnosis and control of tuberculosis in the city of Gombe, north-east Nigeria. The project, lasting ten months, received funding in the latest call for grants from the UPC’s Centre for Development Cooperation (CCD).

Oct 24, 2018

Nigeria has the seventh highest number of people affected by tuberculosis in the world, with 418,000 sufferers and 155,000 deaths in 2017. Despite the work carried out by the National Tuberculosis and Leprosy Control Programme (NTBLCP), the incidence of the disease remains constant over the years.

Last year, researchers from the Barcelona School of Agricultural Engineering (ESAB) of the Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya (UPC) started to cooperate with the Gombe State Primary Health Care Development Agency (GSPHCDA), the NTBLCP’s coordinating unit in the city of Gombe. The data obtained on the ground revealed that the main problem, apart from a shortage of funds, is poor knowledge of the population affected by tuberculosis, which means that less than 20% of people suffering from the disease remain diagnosed and can transmit the disease to others. These people receive no treatment and most end up dying. Mathematical models used to determine how the incidence of tuberculosis would vary if more people were diagnosed and treated revealed that these measures would be highly beneficial.

This year, the researchers proposed to extend this collaboration with the GSPHCDA and to design a pilot plan in a district of Gombe to improve control of the disease. The project is coordinated by Clara Prats, a researcher of the Computational Biology and Complex Systems Group (BIOCOM-SC) and a professor at the UPC’s Department of Physics. Also participating is the Nigerian doctoral student at the UPC and assistant professor at Gombe State University Nura Mohammad Rabiu Ahmad, who went to Gombe this summer to monitor the project. The Barcelona Public Health Agency (ASPB) and the Barcelona Supercomputing Center-Centro Nacional de Supercomputación (BSC-CNS) are also participating. The former is providing advice on the epidemiological management of tuberculosis and latter is participating in simulations related to the epidemiological study. Apart from the economic support of the CCD through the call for grants, the project also receives funding from the Caldes Solidària association.

One of the specific aims of the project is to determine which health issues other than those related to tuberculosis (hygiene, nutrition, other infectious diseases, etc.) should be conveyed in an educational programme aimed at the population. Another aim is to cooperate with Gombe State University to allow its students to take part in the pilot programme. The project will also design the campaign to be carried out in the selected district and determine the improvements that are needed in the tuberculosis control database. Finally it will develop an automatic diagnosis system based on microscope images.

Local strategies for monitoring and controlling tuberculosis

The Computational Biology and Complex Systems Group (BIOCOM-SC) is working to fight tuberculosis with researchers from the Experimental Tuberculosis Unit (UTE) of the Germans Trias i Pujol Institute for Health Science Research, specialists from the Drassanes Tropical Medicine and International Health Unit, computer engineers from the BSC-CNS and epidemiologists from the Barcelona Public Health Agency (ASPB). One of the objectives of the group is to design and test new strategies for local surveillance and control of tuberculosis in European cities with the support of computational models. The knowledge acquired in Europe is being extended to other countries, such as Nigeria. The doctoral thesis of Ahmad forms part of this project, and one of its aims is to apply the study of tuberculosis in African cities.

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