This year, the Memento Research Award for neglected diseases goes to Professor Jürgen May from the Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine (BNITM) in Hamburg. The jury honours his longstanding commitment to researching severe diseases in children in Africa. At the German Center for Infection Research (DZIF), May coordinates the African Partner Institutions and is active in the research field “Neglected Tropical Diseases”.
In Africa, fatal diseases in children are usually infectious in nature. “Malaria is frequently involved and other causes of severe febrile disease often go unidentified due to a lack of appropriate diagnostics on the ground,” explains May, Head of the Infectious Disease Epidemiology Department at the BNITM. “In many regions in Sub-Saharan Africa, the distribution and prevalence of infectious disease pathogens is unknown. This makes correct treatment of patients impossible, even when the required treatment is available. Often, health professionals can only act upon a suspected diagnosis which frequently results in treatment with inappropriate drugs,” emphasizes this years’ awardee.
In the last few years, scientists in research groups in Hamburg and Kumasi, Ghana, have identified the causes of neglected febrile diseases in different hospitals in the Ashanti region: Blood poisoning and coinfections with malaria and other parasites, bacteria or viruses played a particularly important role. “We were surprised to frequently identify Salmonella in the blood stream, which were often resistant to antibiotics,” says May. These projects were conducted at the DZIF.
May thanks his team, “It is a great honour to receive this distinction from the Memento alliance and it acknowledges our research group’s contributions towards improving health in developing countries.” In future, this international group intends to evaluate improved rapid testing systems for simple diagnostics and continue training staff on the ground for diagnosing infectious disease pathogens. Beyond this, the scientists intend to investigate other infectious diseases in Sub-Saharan Africa and make contributions towards understanding their spread and risk factors. The aim of the work is to better prevent and combat these diseases in the future.
Jürgen May is the fifth DZIF scientist to be honoured wit the Memento Award, following Achim Hörauf, Carsten Köhler, Gisela Bretzel and Christoph Lange. The DZIF recently founded the research consortium “Neglected Tropical Diseases” giving the scientists further opportunity to strengthen research in this field.
About the Memento Award
The health demands of billions of people living in poorer countries have been neglected for a long time. Diagnostics, drugs and vaccines against neglected diseases such as sleeping sickness, Chagas disease and tuberculosis are either not available at all or out of date and unsuited for use in regions with weak infrastructures.
In order to create awareness for this crisis, Doctors without Borders, Bread for the World, BUKO Pharma-Kampagne and the DAHW German Leprosy and Tuberculosis Relief Association united and called to life the Memento Research Award for neglected diseases. Since 2014, it has been awarded on an annual basis to people who are strongly committed to fighting neglected diseases in the categories “Research and Development”, “Political Will” and “Journalism”.