£4.6 million global health research study puts spotlight on neglected tropical disease

A cross-faculty research team from Keele University’s Institute for Global Health has received a major award of £4.6 million from the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) to lead a global study investigating the social impact of a neglected tropical disease, cutaneous leishmaniasis.

The NIHR-funded study, called Empowering people with Cutaneous Leishmaniasis: Intervention Programme to improve patient journey and reduce Stigma via Community Education (ECLIPSE), is co-led by parasitologist Dr Helen Price and social anthropologist Dr Lisa Dikomitis from Keele University. ECLIPSE brings together researchers from four different continents and from a wide range of academic disciplines including anthropology, parasitology, primary care, applied health services, psychiatry, psychology, community engagement and public health.

Dr Helen Price, from the Centre for Applied Entomology and Parasitology at Keele University, explains: "Cutaneous leishmaniasis is a severely stigmatising and neglected tropical disease which is caused by infection with tiny parasites and spread by sand flies. The infection results in disfiguring skin lesions which can take many months to heal. This disease represents a major public health burden for many of the poorest communities across the world, with approximately one million new cases per year. There are no vaccines to protect against infection and treatment options are largely limited to the use of toxic drugs which are difficult to administer."

The overall aim of ECLIPSE is to improve the patient journey for people living with cutaneous leishmaniasis and empower communities to deal with the devastating effects of stigma that it causes. The ECLIPSE team will be working in Brazil, Ethiopia and Sri Lanka and will contribute towards the World Health Organisation's ambition of ensuring everyone has access to healthcare.

Dr Lisa Dikomitis, from the School of Medicine and School of Primary, Community and Social Care, said: "The NIHR-funded ECLIPSE team will conduct fieldwork in some of the most marginalised and underserved communities in Brazil, Ethiopia and Sri Lanka. ECLIPSE is underpinned by an anthropological approach and the ECLIPSE researchers will co-develop a biopsychosocial model of cutaneous leishmaniasis with local communities – the first of its kind. On the basis of that new knowledge we will develop, implement and evaluate context-appropriate and culturally bespoke community interventions to raise awareness around the disease, promote early diagnosis and treatment seeking behaviour, decrease social isolation and stigma, empower endemic communities and improve treatment pathways."

The ECLIPSE research team will use expertise across diverse endemic regions, and will share best practice, identifying common cross-cultural themes and specific contextual challenges. Multidirectional learning between the partner countries will be underpinned by a strong collaborative partnership with the Institute for Global Health at Keele. Community and public involvement lies at the heart of the ECLIPSE project and the researchers will work closely with frontline health practitioners and community health volunteers to drive an improved patient journey for cutaneous leishmaniasis. The ECLIPSE project will kick off in November 2019 and will run for four years.

Professor Christian Mallen, Director of the Keele Institute for Global Health, said: "By working closely with healthcare providers and policymakers to strengthen primary healthcare provision for cutaneous leishmaniasis, the ECLIPSE project will contribute to meeting the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goal of improving health and wellbeing. ECLIPSE is a flagship award for Keele’s Institute for Global Health."

ECLIPSE is funded by the NIHR using UK aid from the UK Government under the NIHR Research and Innovation for Global Health Transformation (RIGHT) programme.