SGU, WINDREF co-host climate intervention webinar with UN, WHO, and PAHO

Continuing its longstanding collaboration with national, regional, and global organizations that drive discussion and improvements related to climate change, St. George’s University co-hosted an interactive webinar to address the importance of climate intervention in the Caribbean and how the region can benefit from increased data collection.

The webinar, titled “Calculating the Health Co-Benefits of Climate Interventions Using the CaRBonH tool in the Caribbean,” was co-organized by the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Regional Collaboration Centre at St. George’s, SGU’s Department of Public Health and Preventive Medicine (DPHPM), the Windward Islands Research and Education Foundation (WINDREF), the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), and the World Health Organization (WHO).

“Small Island Developing States, which include the islands in the Caribbean, have a high vulnerability to the impacts of climate change despite the region’s low contribution to greenhouse gas emissions,” said Dr. Calum Macpherson, SGU’s dean of the School of Graduate Studies and director and vice president of WINDREF. “These impacts include more frequent and increasingly severe storms; unpredictable weather patterns, which impact agriculture and the incidence of vector borne diseases; increasing sea levels; and increasing temperatures, all of which adversely affect human and animal health.”

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The April 28 webinar introduced the current status of the data collection process in the Caribbean and explored the potential advantages of adapting the WHO’s Carbon Reductions Benefits on Health Tool (CarbonH) tool to assist in calculating the health benefits of climate interventions.

“Ultimately the data collected in the region will be part of the discussions at the Global Climate Change, COP26 meeting to be held in Glasgow in November 2021,” Dr. Macpherson said.

The CaRBonH tool was initially developed by WHO to quantify the potential health and economic benefits that could be achieved by climate policy implementation in Europe. RCC St. George’s, WINDREF, PAHO, WHO, and SGU have been working in collaboration to apply the CaRBonH tool in the Caribbean by conducting a preliminary analysis of data availability in the region.

 

“Small Island Developing States, which include the islands in the Caribbean, have a high vulnerability to the impacts of climate change despite the region’s low contribution to greenhouse gas emissions.”

 

Webinar participants included 24 representatives of the UNFCCC National Focal Points, and chief environmental health officers and national statistical officers from 16 Caribbean countries. The session was moderated by Dr. Lindonne Glasgow, SGU’s deputy chair and assistant professor of the DPHPM.

Presenters included Dr. Vintura Silva, regional lead of UNFCCC RCC St. George’s; Jonell Benjamin, consultant of UNFCCC RCC St. George’s; and Dr. Daniel Buss, advisor for climate change and health in PAHO, with opening remarks given by Dr. Macpherson,

St. George’s University hosts the UNFCCC RCC in the DPHPM, one of six global Research Collaborating Centers in the world. In an effort to assist in the development of clean development mechanism (CDM) projects in the region, the UNFCCC secretariat created a partnership agreement with WINDREF, which is based on the SGU campus, as well as St. George’s University to establish a regional collaboration center in St. George’s, Grenada. The RCC St. George’s is available to support countries interested in applying the CaRBonH tool to calculate the health co-benefits of climate interventions.

The group plans to reconvene on June 1 and 2 for a virtual conference titled, “Making the Case for Health Co-Benefits of Climate Change Mitigation in the Caribbean.”

New On-Campus Lab Strengthens Diagnostics, Education, And Research In Grenada

With the development of a state-of-the-art diagnostic molecular facility on campus, St. George’s University has assured its community and the country of Grenada that SGU will be prepared to do its part should another infectious disease outbreak surface in the near or distant future.

The laboratory is housed in the on-campus Windward Islands Research and Education Foundation (WINDREF) building, and was constructed to meet World Health Organization (WHO) standards.

“By upgrading our laboratory, we can now provide a long-term diagnostic molecular facility that could provide timely and appropriate diagnostic services for the University and potentially the region,” said Dr. Calum Macpherson, director of research at SGU. Previously, most diagnostic testing had to be sent outside of Grenada for analysis, often creating longer lead times for receiving results.

In addition to diagnostics, the lab will serve as a teaching facility for graduate and undergraduate students interested in molecular technology elective courses. It will also be a resource for faculty and students to conduct research on emerging and re-emerging vector-borne diseases and other infections.

By demonstrating the capacity to accurately and safely test hundreds of cases each week, Dr. Macpherson envisions that the lab will further enhance international and regional partnerships with such groups as the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Caribbean Public Health Agency (CARPHA), and universities worldwide.

We can now provide a long-term diagnostic molecular facility that could provide timely and appropriate diagnostic services for the University and potentially the region.”

 

Commitment to accuracy and efficiency

SGU’s molecular lab will be overseen by Elsa Chitan, the head of the WINDREF laboratories, and will be initially utilized to conduct all COVID-19 testing on campus. Vanessa Matthew-Belmar, MSc ’16, a lab technician in the School of Veterinary Medicine, will use the lab to conduct her PhD studies on COVID-19 at SGU.

“The molecular lab will provide a diverse group of students and faculty with a molecular facility, which is increasingly the Gold Standard for diagnosing infectious diseases,” said Dr. Trevor Noël, director of SGU’s field research studies in the Office of Research and deputy director of WINDREF. Since its founding in 1994 as a non-governmental organization in Grenada and as a 501(c)(3) non-profit charitable foundation, WINDREF has been committed to health and environmental development through research and education programs, by promoting collaborative relationships between internationally recognized scholars and regional scientists, and by adhering to the highest ethical research and academic standards. WINDREF’s current donors include the NIH, Grand Challenges Canada, Nature Conservancy International, FAO, The Spencer Foundation, Global Challenges Research Fund, United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Global Water Partnership, and many other entities.

SGU’s molecular lab in the School of Veterinary Medicine served as Grenada’s initial national SARS-CoV-2 testing site at the onset of the pandemic last year. It was one of approximately 250 quality control labs around the world overseen by the WHO. Its results were in 100 percent concordance with the expected test results from the WHO. The national testing laboratory located at the Grenada General Hospital continues to collaborate with WINDREF personnel on best diagnostic practices.

PCR testing continues at SGU’s Open Modica Hall, where Dr. Kathy Yearwood, director of University Clinical Services and Dr. Jennifer Solomon, chair of nursing and allied health science, join staff from the University Clinic, nursing program, and WINDREF COVID-19 team, have been testing the SGU affiliated community and contractors. The program has tested almost 8,000 individuals over the past year with the majority of the results returned to those tested within eight hours. A rapid turnaround is essential for the test to be useful for epidemiological surveillance, and its success played a significant role in limiting the numbers of COVID-19 infections in Grenada over the past year.

Dr. Trevor Noel receives his COVID-19 vaccine as part of Grenada’s initial rollout.

SGU faculty step forward in Grenada vaccine rollout 

Drs. Macpherson and Noël were amongst the first to receive the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Oxford/AstraZeneca SARS-CoV-2 vaccine on February 12. They joined the Grenada Prime Minister, Dr. the Right Hon. Keith Mitchell; Minister of Health the Hon. Nickolas Steele; and a number of cabinet members, senior administrators from the Ministry of Health, and some frontline workers.

“In Grenada, non-pharmaceutical measures have been in place from the beginning, whether it’s a limited curfew, the mandatory wearing of masks in public, frequent washing of hands, physical distancing, along with a rapid test, trace, and isolate and quarantine program, all helped to maintain the low numbers of COVID-19 infections in Grenada,” Dr. Macpherson said. “As a result, we have had so few cases, which means that almost everyone is immunologically naïve and susceptible to infection. The vaccine is the final piece to protect everyone in Grenada.”

 

 

Both Dr. Macpherson and Dr. Noël reported having only transitory mild side effects from the first of two vaccine shots. The immediate rollout of the vaccine will be administered by the Community and Public Health nurses of the Ministry of Health at the Grenada General Hospital. Dr. Yearwood and members of the SGU clinical team and WINDREF COVID-19 team were among those to receive the vaccine early in its rollout.

“The strong partnership between the Ministry of Health, SGU, WINDREF, PAHO/WHO and the participation of the people of Grenada with the non-pharmaceutical measures allowed Grenada to limit the number of cases of COVID-19 in Grenada to extremely low levels,” said Dr. Macpherson. “It has been a pleasure for us to be a part of this remarkable public health achievement.”

– Brett Mauser

 

WINDREF Provides In-Depth Fisheries Training Through UN Grant

Fishers from Carriacou celebrate earning their captain’s permit through a 12-week training program facilitated by WINDREF. Photos from Roland Baldeo

To strengthen a region that relies heavily on the fisheries sector for its food safety and livelihood, the Windward Islands Research and Education Foundation (WINDREF) recently led a rigorous 12-week training course that resulted in more than 300 men and women earning a fishing vessel captain’s permit, demonstrating their expertise in rules and safety on the seas.

The Grenada graduation ceremony bestowed captain’s permits to more than 250 alumni of the 12-week course.

WINDREF, which is based on the St. George’s University campus, carried out the project through funding from a $370,000EC grant from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) through the Climate Change Adaptation in the Eastern Caribbean Fisheries Sector (CC4FISH) project in the Eastern Caribbean. Permits were bestowed to fishers from Grenada, Carriacou, and Petite Martinique.

“This project provided a unique public-private partnership opportunity despite COVID-19 restrictions for services by WINDREF towards regional implementation of climate change adaptation,” said Trevor P. Noël, PhD ’17, MPH ’04, deputy director of WINDREF. “The success of this program is evidenced in the fact that both the United Nations (FAO) and Grenada Government Ministries have requested further dialogue with us for future UN projects that are due to come on stream this fall. It is an exciting time for WINDREF and, by extension, St. George’s University.”

The training was set up in 12 one-week modules covering rules of the sea, safety at sea, search and rescue, seamanship and boat handling, global positioning systems (GPS), navigation, first aid, conflict resolution, fishery laws and regulations, marine protected areas, engine repair and maintenance, and marine radio operating procedures. Each fisher was required to attend all 12 sessions to obtain their permit.

“This project is an embodiment of ‘being thy neighbor’s keeper’ by improving safety at sea for Grenadian fishers,” Dr. Noël said. “In addition, the importance of food security and the linkage to climate resilience and health is foremost in our mind.”

Fishers throughout the region, including in Petite Martinique (shown), were trained on a wide variety of topics focused on rules and safety.

 

–Brett Mauser 

International Expert on Dengue Fever Delivers 20th Annual WINDREF Lecture

With 390 million dengue infections per year and 96 million more individuals showing symptoms, half of the world’s population is now at risk of contracting dengue virus, this according to Dr. Timothy Endy at the 20th annual WINDREF Lecture at St. George’s University. In his address, the chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at SUNY Upstate Medical University outlined the history of dengue research in Thailand and shared his key findings and the future directions in the study of the disease.

Additionally, Dr. Endy not only came to Grenada to provide an overview of his research across almost three decades but as part of a proposed incidence study titled “Dengue in a Travel Population: Prospective Cohort Study of Primary Dengue Infection.” The study will examine dengue-naïve individuals who move to an endemic dengue area and are now at high risk for infection, while also offering an opportunity to study the immunology of primary infection.

Dr. Timothy Endy

“The Grenada prospective dengue study is the first of its kind, in that a primary prospective study has never been done,” stated Dr. Endy. “Understanding what happens during that first infection is so key and so understudied that it’s one of the main reasons why we’re doing it here at SGU.”

Funded by Janssen Global Public Health, a division of Janssen Pharmaceutica, the study began on August 2018 and will run until May 2021. Approximately 600 students are enrolled. They will provide blood samples for research surveillance throughout the year with the primary objective of determining what the incidence of dengue is within the student population, as well as the feasibility to support a prophylactic dengue efficacy trial.

“The study will focus on the incidence of infection of the dengue virus in the student body with hopes of providing a better understanding of the host response to the first dengue infection,” explained Dr. Endy. “Additionally, we hope it will help to refine diagnostic assays for dengue which is essential for diagnosing acute dengue and vaccine development; and be a platform in which to test the effectiveness of drugs and vaccines in a traveler’s population.”

As professor and chair of microbiology and immunology and vice chair of research in the Department of Medicine at Upstate, Dr. Endy is considered a renowned expert in the field of dengue and dengue hemorrhagic fever and emerging viral pathogens. During his longstanding career, he has conducted basic science research in the field of virology, developed vaccine field and epidemiological study sites in Southeast and Central Asia, conducted phase I and II clinical vaccine trials, and is active in the development and management of research programs that are product oriented towards developing vaccines and diagnostics that meet FDA regulatory requirements.

Formerly known as the annual Keith B. Taylor Memorial/WINDREF Lecture, the WINDREF Lecture attracts the attention of world experts willing to share their expertise on topics such as climate change, health needs, and drug abuse and addictions. Past speakers have included Dr. Robert C. Gallo, best known for his role in the discovery of the HIV’s link to AIDS; Dr. Ruth Macklin, a bioethics pioneer; and renowned cardiologist Dr. Valentin Fuster.

– Ray-Donna Peters