Expert to help WHO in Dili, East Timor with tropical diseases

A JCU public health expert is off to Dili, Timor Leste (formerly East Timor) to help the World Health Organisation address three serious tropical diseases: lymphatic filariasis, intestinal worms and yaws.

Reverend Dr Wayne Melrose, JCU Associate Lecturer in the School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine and Deputy Director of the World Health Organization (WHO) Collaborating Center for Control of Lymphatic Filariasis will spend the next several weeks in the WHO office helping Timorese health professionals draw up control plans for these diseases and trial them in two districts.

Dr Melrose said if the district trials proved successful, the program would be extended to the whole country in the next few years.

The WHO chose Dr Melrose to do this work because the filariasis centre at JCU has been involved in lymphatic filariasis research and control for over a decade, and is currently supporting successful control programs in Papua New Guinea and the Pacific Islands. It will also be Dr Melrose's fifth trip to Timor-Leste, where he has been involved in health assessment and teaching since 2002.

His said while his work assisted Timor Leste people it also helped safeguard Australia from disease in neighbouring countries.

"There is more to this than being a good neighbour," Dr Melrose said. "There are human and animal diseases in nearby countries that we must keep out of Australia. Helping countries in our region improve their disease control also helps to safeguard Australia's interests."

He said the work in Timor Leste and elsewhere was part of JCU's plan to be recognised as a centre of excellence for Australian biosecurity.

The mosquito-borne parasitic disease lymphatic filariasis infects about 120 million people worldwide and is common in Timor-Leste.

"It's effects include disfiguring swelling of the legs called elephantiasis, kidney disease and a lowering of general immunity which increases the risk of acquiring other infectious diseases such as tuberculosis. A global campaign to eliminate the parasite was started in 2002," he said. Intestinal parasitic worms mainly effected children and caused obstruction of the intestine and airways, stunted growth, and caused malnutrition and anaemia. The resulting listlessness and irritability could also cause learning problems. Around 2 billion people worldwide were infected with these parasites. Recent surveys in Timor-Leste have shown that 95% of children were infected, he said. "The control of Lymphatic filariasis and intestinal worms can be achieved by very simple means - treating everyone in the community with two common drugs, costing only about 70 cents per person, and improvements in sanitation, hygiene and mosquito control," Dr Melrose said. "Yaws is a very contagious bacterial disease which thrives in conditions of poverty and poor hygiene. In the early stages it causes nasty skin lesions. It can them progress to eroding bone and producing deformities. Once identified it is easily treated with penicillin." Dr Wayne Melrose is available for further comment on 07-4781-6175.

To organise images or photographs, contact Jill Shields on 07-4781-4586, 0417-602-359 or [email protected]

http://www.jcu.edu.au 

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