STRENGTHENING PARASITOLOGY CAPABILITIES IN A COVID-19 WORLD
1 De Montfort University (UNITED KINGDOM)
2 Universidad Miguel Hernández de Elche (SPAIN)
3 Department of Public Health, University of Makeni (SIERRA LEONE)
4 Ernest Bai Koroma University of Science and Technology (SIERRA LEONE)
About this paper:
Conference name: 13th International Conference on Education and New Learning Technologies
Dates: 5-6 July, 2021
Location: Online Conference
Abstract:The high morbidity and mortality associated to the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) virus, which rapidly evolved into a global pandemic owing to its rapid transmissibility, has attracted significant research attention. Meanwhile while effort is necessary to tackle COVID-19, it is essential to continue and strengthen combatting different protozoan and metazoan parasitic diseases, as these can have devastating effects on local communities. Since 2019, a multidisciplinary team from different European universities, led by De Montfort University (DMU, Leicester, UK), is displaying a multi-phase intervention to strengthen the teaching and research status of general and medical parasitology in Sierra Leone (SL), in close collaboration with local parasitologists and academics from the Universities of Makeni (UNIMAK) and Ernest Bai Koroma University of Science and Technology (EBKUST). The input and collaboration of Sierra Leonean academics is pivotal not only for the successful implementation and development of our intervention but also for its sustainability. The intervention consists of different funds provided at different times to build laboratory capacity (mostly related to purchase key laboratory consumables and pieces of equipment) in conjunction with the use of the open-access e-Parasitology© virtual resources, which include a complete website (http://parasitology.dmu.ac.uk/) and its associated novel pilot app for smartphones (https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.DMUHLS.eParasitologyApp), following significant curriculum changes in different human health degrees offered at both African institutions. Funds were provided by DMU’s Quality Research - Global Challenges Research Fund (QR GCRF), which facilitated the introduction of clinical parasitology practicals for the detection of emerging human parasites in different human health degrees at both Sierra Leonean universities, practicals that are delivered with support from the virtual laboratory and microscope e-Parasitology resources. Both virtual environments have been shown to be successful in strengthening parasitology at UNIMAK in 2019, which was followed by a significant increase in student enrolment in the medical laboratory science pathway option in the BSc Public Health in year 3 and 4 in 2019/20. This effect could be attributed to an increment in UNIMAK students’ interest in parasitology and biomedical research. A follow-up to the DMU QR GCRF fund was used to strengthen the medical microbiology laboratory’s capabilities to introduce a new research line in emerging zoonotic parasites at EBKUST in 2020/21. To date, ninety-two students enrolled in the EBKUST programmes of BSc Public Health and BSc Microbiology and Immunology have used the e-Parasitology app for the study of medical parasitology. Students currently enrolled in both programmes are completing a novel practical for the detection of emerging zoonotic human parasites, including Cryptosporidium spp., in animal faeces. This communication will present a full description of the multi-phase intervention undertaken and the different challenges that the team has overcome to build capabilities in medical parasitology in SL, essential to provide future health practitioners with appropriate skills to face major (e.g. malaria) and emerging zoonotic parasites as well as protecting immunocompromised individuals, such as Ebola survivors, in this West African country.
Keywords: DMU e-Parasitology, DMU e-Parasitology app, virtual learning, parasitology education, building capacities.