Sudanese scientist Dr Hiba Mohamed has been awarded the Royal Society Pfizer Award for her pioneering research into genetic susceptibility to leishmaniasis, a parasitic disease transmitted by sand fly bites and prevalent in the Horn of Africa.
The £60,000 (Sh8.3 million) grant award and £5,000 (Sh695,000) personal prize award, were established last year by the Royal Society – the UK national academy of science – and Pfizer with the aim of helping to expand scientific research capacity in developing countries.
Dr Mohamed, from the Institute of Endemic Diseases, in Sudan, has won the award for her research on the genetic basis of differences in human susceptibility to leishmaniasis.
Her discoveries have increased the understanding of how the disease develops in humans and may help in the design of drugs against the disease.
Leishmaniasis – like malaria is caused by a parasite that is transferred to humans through insect bites.
If left untreated
Infection leads to disfigurement and is fatal if left untreated.
Leishmaniasis exists throughout the tropics and currently over 12 million people worldwide are infected with the disease and a further 350 million are at risk.
Outbreaks have claimed thousands of lives in South Sudan as well as among tribes who have migrated to highly infected areas in eastern Sudan because of the 1984 drought in Darfur. There is no vaccine or effective treatment for the disease. Dr Mohamed said:
“By studying the movements of people across eastern Sudan we have discovered that there is a clear difference in people’s susceptibility to leishmaniasis disease. This indicates that there are specific genes which act as a defence mechanism against leishmaniasis.
‘‘By understanding which genes are responsible, therapies could be developed against the infectious disease.”
She added that she was delighted to have won the award because it would enable to help people in the very remote and rural areas of Sudan who would otherwise not be able to receive treatment.
“This is because it mainly affects people in the isolated areas and does not reach the larger cities. It is also hard for those infected with leishmaniasis to reach the hospitals for treatment because they are so ill.
Dr Mohamed intends to use the award grant to further her research to develop preventative treatment.
Sir David Read, Vice President and Biological Secretary of the Royal Society said: “Hiba is an inspirational figure for women working in developing countries and proof that it is possible to establish an internationally recognised research career while working in a country such as Sudan.
‘‘Her work really touches the heart of the community. Without her passion to help people in the remote and rural areas of Africa many would die from this tropical disease simply because they cannot travel to the hospitals.”
Robert Mallett, senior vice president of Worldwide Alliance Development, Philanthropy and Corporate Responsibility for Pfizer Inc and president of the Pfizer Foundation said: “This prestigious award recognizes the best and brightest scientists who are conducting groundbreaking research in Africa.
Dr Mohamed’s pioneering research on leishmaniasis has led to greater understanding into the genetic factors that determine susceptibility or resistance to this deadly disease.” (Agencies)