The UOC, in partnership with the WHO, aids control of neglected tropical skin diseases

Seminari Azilal
Rubn Permuy
In African countries on the Mediterranean

Cutaneous leishmaniasis is a parasitic disease that causes skin lesions. More common in dogs than in humans, it is transmitted by the bite of an insect, the phlebotomine sandfly. Starting in 2013, the UOC has developed the Leishguide project together with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Ministry of Health in Morocco, one of the most affected countries, to evaluate the implementation of clinical practice guidelines in the country.

From 8 to 10 March, Carme Carrion, professor in the UOC's Faculty of Health Sciences and coordinator of the project – in which Marta Aymerich, Vice President for Strategic Planning and Research, is also taking part – attended the Leishguide closing meeting in Rabat. According to Carrion, this project has enabled "detailed, in-depth digitized data collection on all the people affected by disease, which in turn has contributed to epidemiological and clinical management mapping of the disease; these are both key aspects in planning for and defining strategies to fight any infectious disease".

With Leishguide, implementation of the guidelines – both by the health professionals and by the sector's management staff – for controlling cutaneous leishmaniasis has been analysed in two Moroccan regions, Azilal and Ouarzazate, which each year report an average of 400 cases, or 20% of the total recorded in the country. Even though the disease is not considered fatal, “the affected population, who mostly live in impoverished areas, suffer considerable stigmatization and, if it is not treated, it may lead to subsequent complications," explained Carrion.

The research team has developed a number of indicators and an individual data collection protocol for each patient with the goal of improving records and medical practice, enabling correct diagnoses to be made and the appropriate treatment to be given in each case. The Leishguide consortium is now seeking to take its methodology to the rest of Morocco.

Training with the WHO

In addition to the Leishguide project, from October 2017, the UOC will again run its training programme for health professionals in African countries on the Mediterranean for the control of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) affecting the skin, including cutaneous leishmaniasis. This project was presented by Carme Carrion at the WHO Congress, held in Geneva from 20 to 22 March, for the global control of Buruli ulcer, another skin NTD. In addition, on 19 April, Carrion will take part with Marta Aymerich in the WHO Global Partners Meeting on NTDs. According to Aymerich, the Leishguide project "has let us put translational research into practice, as we have studied and demonstrated that by applying the results from clinical research we can improve control and monitoring of the disease – in this case, cutaneous leishmaniasis". The results from the UOC's project will be presented by Carrion and Aymerich a few days before the WHO meeting at the World Summit on Social Accountability in Tunisia.

Neglected tropical skin diseases, which can lead to death or severe disability, are particularly endemic in low- or medium-income countries that do not have optimal health monitoring for the population in contact with domesticated or farm animals.

Pastora Martnez, the UOC's Vice President for Globalization and Cooperation, explained that the UOC wishes to foster experiences such as these, which combine research and training with a significant social impact. “With projects like this, which involve training and research and lead to changes in public policies, the University contributes to attaining the Sustainable Development Goals that form the core of the United Nations' 2030 Agenda," she explained.