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What if tropical diseases had as much attention as COVID?

January 14, 2021 - 13:27 -- Malaria World


"What if the world had tackled malaria with the energy now dedicated to the coronavirus?"

"As the COVID-19 pandemic threatens to erode huge gains against much more devastating infections, I look for silver linings."

All year, COVID-19 has commandeered the world’s attention. It is as if no other disease has ever been more important, more contagious or more deadly.

I founded a non-profit research institute in 2008; we established the first molecular-biology laboratory in the Republic of Congo, at the country’s only public university. We monitor pathogens such as those that cause gastrointestinal diseases, malaria, HIV, tuberculosis (TB) and chikungunya — which together infect more than 250 million people each year globally, and kill more than 2.5 million. To keep treatments effective, we assess the development of resistance to antimalarial, antiretroviral and antibiotic drugs.

Our research programmes were already in place, so we could quickly pivot to diagnostic testing and blood-based epidemiological studies to understand how COVID-19 was spreading in Congo and how to keep health-care workers safe. Since March, three-quarters of our time has been spent on COVID-19.

That means I am neglecting my work on other diseases — which are not going away. And it’s not only my lab...

Author: Francine Ntoumi
Nature 587, 331 (2020)

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Francine Ntoumi heads the Congolese Foundation for Medical Research and is a senior lecturer at the University Marien Ngouabi in Brazzaville, Republic of Congo, and the Institute of Tropical Medicine at the University of Tübingen in Germany.