New SVM Associate Dean Inspires Future Veterinary Researchers

Having grown up in and around New York City, Ray Kaplan was more familiar with city and suburban life than the world he one day found in farm country. In high school, he sought more wide open spaces by spending summers working on dairy farms, a setting in which he felt right at home.

“The farm atmosphere was new to me, but I loved the physical and outdoor nature of the work,” said Dr. Kaplan, a new associate dean of graduate studies at St. George’s University School of Veterinary Medicine. “I also developed an appreciation of dairy cows and found them to be lovely animals to work with.”

He added to his experience by studying dairy science as an undergrad at Virginia Tech, diving deep into parasitology research at Virginia-Maryland College of Veterinary Medicine, and following that up with a PhD in veterinary parasitology from the University of Florida.

Throughout his career as a clinician, Dr. Kaplan emphasized research, including the US Army Veterinary Corps, where he worked at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research in a malaria drug discovery program. Several years later, he took an assistant professor position at the University of Georgia Veterinary School, where he would spend the next 23 years developing an internationally recognized parasitology research program.

Excited to now start a new chapter at SGU, Dr. Kaplan shares how he plans to use his knowledge and expertise in research to help improve the SGU School of Veterinary Medicine program, mentor students, and help faculty succeed in their research endeavors.

St. George’s University: What led you to join SGU, and what are you looking forward to the most as an official faculty member?

Dr. Ray Kaplan: I am thrilled to be a part of the SGU family. Although I just started as professor of parasitology and associate dean for graduate studies for SVM in August, I have been coming to SGU as a visiting professor for the past 20 years, so I knew that I loved Grenada, and the community spirit of SGU. I also joined because I had reached a point in my career where I wanted to do something a little different. Though I did a considerable amount of teaching in my earlier years at UGA, over time my position evolved into being predominantly research focused, and I found that I missed the interaction with veterinary students.

At SGU, I am looking forward to returning to doing more teaching and engaging with students, including establishing a vet student parasitology club, as well as conducting some new areas of research, such as parasites of aquatic animals. And in my role as associate dean of graduate studies, I look forward to building and improving the SVM graduate program.

 

“I firmly believe that learning the scientific process by participating in research builds critical thinking skills, which are essential to practicing evidence-based medicine, and can be applied in so many aspects of life.”

 

SGU: What do you consider to be some of the benefits to students participating in research?

RK: The field of veterinary medicine is dynamic and ever changing, and the amount of information is increasing too fast for anyone to keep up with everything. However, experience in research gives students a better foundation to critically evaluate what they read and hear, and thus provides a step up in maintaining the highest standards of practice. I firmly believe that learning the scientific process by participating in research builds critical thinking skills, which are essential to practicing evidence-based medicine, and can be applied in so many aspects of life.

SGU: Why is research so important, especially now with COVID-19?

RK: Understanding research and science in general is essential to controlling COVID-19, as well as many other of society’s current concerns. Veterinary researchers play a large and critical role in the animal-based research that provides benefits to both animal and human health. These researchers and healthcare professionals played an important role in responding to this pandemic, and they will continue to play an important role in helping to prevent the next one. Hence, the world needs more veterinary researchers.

SGU: What future research topics and projects would you like to see covered at SGU?

RK: As a large university in the Caribbean, SGU is uniquely positioned to address research on topics relevant to this region, such as aquatic animal medicine and conservation, and sustainable control of parasites in tropical environments. For instance, SGU is the perfect place for developing a major center for aquatic animal health, and the achievements of such an institute could provide valuable international recognition for the school.

SGU: How would you describe the student journey and what will help make students successful here at SGU?

RK: Students of veterinary medicine are a fairly unique group in their level of passion and dedication to their pursuit. This intense pursuit to become veterinarians involves a lot of emotional and economic investment. Veterinary students tend to be high-achieving idealists who have chosen the profession because they want to help animals.

Over the years of coming to SGU as a visiting professor, I have been impressed with the academic skills and enthusiasm of SGU students. I think building on those core strengths through increasing opportunities for pre-professional groups and professor-student interactions will aid in their success. I also believe that the geographic location of Grenada and being away from their homes creates a stronger student community, which creates an environment where students help other students be successful.

— Ray-Donna Peters

 

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India consulate recognizes SGU faculty members for excellence in medicine and medical education

In honor of the 75th anniversary of India’s independence, the Office of the Honorary Consul of India to Grenada honored two longtime St. George’s University faculty members—Drs. Vishnu Rao and Narasimhan Prabhakar—for their commitment to medicine and medical education.

Each was feted at a ceremony at the Botanical Gardens in Tanteen, St. George’s, on August 15. Awardees received the accolades from the Honorary Consul of India to Grenada Shadel Nyack Compton, as well as the Honorable Minister Oliver Joseph.

“An honor like this would have been unimaginable to me as a little boy growing up in India,” said Dr. Rao, who recently was appointed dean of university alumni affairs. “To end up in a beautiful country such as Grenada and have the opportunity to make a meaningful difference in the lives of so many students and so many Grenadians is just wonderful. All the while, I have made lifelong friendships with Grenadian people and families, who are so kind and intelligent, and I thoroughly enjoy the everyday living and beauty here on the island.”

Dr. Rao has taught and mentored SGU students for more than 40 years, having joined as an assistant professor in the School of Medicine in January 1977. He is the embodiment of SGU’s commitment to student support, serving as assistant dean of students from 1977 to 1997 before assuming the role of dean of students from 1997 to April 2021. With his help, more than 300 Grenadians have earned their MDs from SGU, and thousands more have graduated from the Schools of Veterinary Medicine, Arts and Sciences, and Graduate Studies.

Dr. Rao and colleagues at the 2015 Orphans and Elderly Gala

“You cannot measure the positive impact that Dr. Rao has had on this university, our students, and people all around the world who have indirectly benefited from the wisdom, values, and commitment to educational excellence,” said Dr. Charles Modica, chancellor of St. George’s University. “SGU would not be where it is today without Dr. Rao, and I’m forever grateful for all he’s done for the island of Grenada and for our students.”

Additionally, Dr. Rao was instrumental in establishing the Orphans and Elderly Fund, which has raised more than $1.8 million to support caregiver programs throughout Grenada since 1991. He also helped build the Grenada Association of Retired Persons (GARP).

As dean of university alumni affairs, Dr. Rao is supporting the Alumni Association by staying connected with SGU’s more than 24,000 graduates. “I have greatly enjoyed speaking with our alumni, finding out how they’re doing, how they can stay involved, and how they can promote the spirit of SGU,” he said.

 

“To end up in a beautiful country such as Grenada and have the opportunity to make a meaningful difference in the lives of so many students and so many Grenadians is just wonderful.”

 

The Consul also recognized Dr. Narasimhan Prabhakar, a psychiatrist who has been affiliated with SGU for more than 30 years, including presently as a professor in the clinical teaching unit at Grenada General Hospital and in a clinic within SGU’s Health Services department. He also teaches SGU’s Term 5 students as a psychiatrist at Mount Gay Psychiatric Hospital, and meets with patients the Richmond Home for the Elderly. Dr. Prabhakar was honored for his contributions to mental health, psychiatry, and medicine in Grenada and sister islands Carriacou and Petite Martinique.

“I am very humbled by this honor bestowed upon me by the Consul of India,” Dr. Prabhakar said. “I am also indebted to the administration of SGU, the Ministry of Health, and the Government of Grenada for making the person I am today. Teaching communication skills and psychiatric interviewing skills to young and enthusiastic students gives me great pleasure, as does keeping in touch with my patients in the community, which I have been involved in for 40 years. I am proud to be an Indian and an adopted Grenadian.”

Dr. Marios Loukas, dean of the School of Medicine, praised Dr. Prabhakar’s contributions to SGU. “We are thankful for the invaluable contributions that Dr. Prabhakar has made to the University and our student body,” he said. “He has played a crucial role in their growth and well-being, both on campus and in the field, and has long been a pillar of psychiatric care for the wider Grenadian community.”

– Brett Mauser

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SAS and SGS grads encouraged to “profoundly impact the world”

On June 12, students from 44 countries came together with family, friends, and well-wishers for their last virtual meetup and to celebrate their academic achievements at the annual School of Arts and Sciences/School of Graduate Studies commencement ceremony.  

Over 420 graduates were encouraged to achieve outside the box as they start their new journey into the workplace around the world.  Degrees were conferred to the SAS and SGS Class of 2021, as well as the SAS Class of 2020, which could not hold its ceremony last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a profound keynote address, Dessima Williams, ambassador for Grenada and permanent representative to the United Nations from 2009 to 2013, challenged SGU’s newest alumni to live a life of service and to commit to doing something special and impactful.  

“Go from SGU into the world and help to transform everything that you can—make it better,” said Ambassador Williams. “You are graduating, so you must have gotten some good marks. Go now and make good marks on the world.” 

Jonathan Silwanes, BSc ’20, class speaker for the SAS Class of 2020, added that success is not only about achieving your goals, but about being triumphant when faced with hardships. 

 

As we embark on our respective paths, there will be harder challenges to come, but as long as you persevere, you will be an unstoppable force.

 

“As we celebrate our successes together today, I challenge all my fellow graduates to appreciate the journey you’ve been through, applaud yourselves for your accomplishments, and remember the adversity you’ve overcome to reach this point,” he said. “Continue to believe in yourself amidst the challenges that await you in the future. Continue your quest to your dreams and continue to succeed every day.” 

Namratha Guruvaiah Sridhara, BSc ’20, class speaker for the School of Arts and Sciences Class of 2021, shared a short story that alluded to the importance of turning one’s struggles into positive learning outcomes.  

“Standing here today, our perseverance and willpower to endure has proven to be stronger than any obstacle. Hence, I urge you all to remember this time, not just as a period of difficulty, but look at it as a way to see what you have achieved and what you have overcome. As we embark on our respective paths, there will be harder challenges to come, but as long as you persevere, you will be an unstoppable force.” 

Samantha Antoine-Purcell, MEd ’21, class speaker for the School of Graduate Studies, thanked her predecessors for paving the way and implored her fellow classmates to think beyond the assignments and projects and step into alumni roles to pay it forward. 

“Today, our graduation is not just the end of the journey,” she said. “Indeed, it is the beginning of our commitment to learning and growing, our commitment to leading lives of purpose and intent. It is our commitment to embracing that which we are—the embodiment of phenomenal thought and action. We have a responsibility to use our collective experiences to profoundly impact our world and positively do so as change agents.”

– Istra Bell

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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.”

SGS Grad Wins Coveted Fulbright Scholarship Award

To make strides in improving public health at home, Grenadian Larissa Mark, MPH ’18, has gone almost three thousand miles away to make it happen.

With an already enhanced understanding of the promotion and protection of community health, the St. George’s University graduate has taken it even further in 2021, now working toward a Master of Public Health in epidemiology at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha. Ms. Mark is doing so as a recent recipient of the Fulbright Foreign Student Scholarship Award, a program that allows awardees to explore professional opportunities abroad.

“I was beyond excited to venture into this new territory,” she said. “It was the opportunity of a lifetime to grow both professionally and personally. This award also came at an opportune time with the spotlight on public health due to the current COVID-19 pandemic.”

Ms. Mark was nominated for the award in part due to her research collaboration with her SGU professors on the Bush Burning Practice And Related Respiratory Symptoms Among Households In Grenada, The Caribbean. She also made significant contributions to public health as an environment, health, and safety manager at Sandals Grenada Beach Resort and Spa.

“SGU has played an integral role in my foundation both as a professional and an individual,” Ms. Mark said. “It is where I found my passion for public health and made long-lasting friendships. I could always depend on my professors for advice on my career development. However, the support did not stop when I completed my degree—there was continued mentoring support both professional and personal well after I graduated.”

On track to graduate in May 2022, Ms. Mark plans to spend her summer working with the Department of Human Health and Services Nebraska. As part of her Applied Practical Experience (APEx), she will be assisting on a study on the health outcomes associated with COVID-19 and pregnant women. She envisions herself completing a PhD in epidemiology or environmental epidemiology before returning to Grenada.

“I have always felt most fulfilled when I am helping other people and making a difference,” she said. “There’s no better way to do so than with service to the community by improving public health.”

 

— Ray-Donna Peters

 

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MD Grad Is Addressing Another Major Public Health Issue—HIV

Jeremy Aguinaldo, MD ’17, looks at disease not only from up close—with each individual patient—but from a bird’s eye view. A board-certified public health physician for Compass Care in the Georgia Department of Public Health, Dr. Aguinaldo identifies risk factors and problem areas for large populations, and implements programs to improve community health.

“The improvement of an individual’s health also requires improving the entire healthcare system,” said Dr. Aguinaldo, who recently completed his public health and preventive medicine residency at Morehouse School of Medicine.

While countries around the world deal with the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, Dr. Aguinaldo is addressing a problem that continues to plague his community—the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).

How serious is the current HIV problem in the United States?

More than a million people in the United States are living with HIV, and in 2018, there were about 36,000 new cases. Contracting HIV is no longer considered a death sentence as it was before. With the continued advancements of antiretroviral drugs to manage the virus, HIV had become a chronic illness, similar to how diabetes and blood pressure are managed.

What measures are you taking to help prevent the spread of HIV in your community?

When a patient initially tests positive for HIV, he or she is immediately sent to the clinic where they are linked to care and started on antiretroviral treatments. Patients who start on medication soon after diagnosis have shown to have better outcomes compared to those start much later. By taking the prescribed medications, the viral load (the amount of HIV in the body) is reduced. By reducing the viral load to such a level, it becomes undetectable by standard blood tests.

Patients who maintain an undetectable status will continue to be healthy and prevent transmission, which is referred to as “treatment as prevention.” This is key in preventing HIV spread in the community. The clinic also promotes the use of Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), which, when taken daily, is successful in preventing infection with HIV, greatly reducing the risk. It’s also important to raise awareness and educate the community on the benefits of using PrEP.

Dr. Aguinaldo as a medical student in Grenada

What social or economic trends are tied to HIV cases and transmissions?

There is a significant risk of HIV infection in those with mental health illnesses. The common conditions include depression, anxiety, bipolarity, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), schizophrenia, and dementia. These issues make drug adherence much more difficult to comply with and increase high-risk behaviors such as illicit substance use and unprotected sexual activities.

Many individuals in the community I serve are homeless, unemployed, or lack health insurance and thus struggle to make ends meet. They consider their HIV status less of a priority until their own basic needs are met. This is where addressing those social factors, as well as managing them, clinically come into play.

Why has public health become the focus of your career?

When I was getting my master’s degree in public health, I learned from nurses, doctors, statisticians, researchers, engineers, and others who all shared a common goal: to improve the health of the population. Healing is more than just prescribing a simple pill but also collaborating with a team of multiple disciplines to help the patient.

Dr. Aguinaldo’s cancer research presentation as an SGU student

SGU Public Health Professor Appointed To Serve On The ASPPH Board Of Directors

Although Professor Martin Forde’s career begun as an engineer in 1987, it has been his two decades in the field of public health that has proved most rewarding to him.  Dr. Forde is  a professor within the School of Graduate Studies Department of Public Health and Preventive Medicine. He also serves as director for St. George’s University’s Medical Student Research Institute and track director for the environmental and occupational health concentrations within the Master of Public Health degree program.

His latest appointment to the board of directors of the Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health (ASPPH) makes him the first representative from SGU to serve in that capacity.  Professor Forde explains to SGU News what his appointment to the ASPPH board means to him, what he hopes to achieve as director, and how he plans to balance his responsibilities between SGU and ASPPH.

St. George’s University: How does it feel to be recently appointed to serve as director for ASPPH?

Professor Martin Forde: I feel honored. I have the privilege to be the voice that represents SGU’s public health program and others from non-US territories on various issues. I am also grateful that ASPPH has proactively reached out to non-US programs to ensure that these schools and programs are represented on their board.

SGU: What are you hoping to achieve during your appointment?

Professor Forde: I am hoping to introduce the way in which non-US-based public health programs operate with less resources as compared to the US counterparts, as well as related issues and concerns that impact us, and how public health solutions can be tailored to meet our unique needs.

SGU: What does your additional responsibilities within the University entail?

Professor Forde: As a professor within the Department of Public Health and Preventive Medicine, I am presently the longest serving faculty member having been with the department now for more than 20 years teaching both environmental and occupational health. Further, I am the track director for the environmental and occupational health concentrations within the Master of Public Health degree program. I’m also the director of the Medical Student Research Institute, which offers honors students in term 2 the opportunity to engage in research projects with an assigned faculty mentor.

SGU: How do you balance those responsibilities?

Professor Forde: All the above appointments are to a large degree synergistic in that they are related and complement each other. My new appointment as an at-large ASPPH board member will allow me to share my teaching and research experiences from a non-US based public health program with the leading association for public health schools and programs in the US.

SGU: What’s next Professor Forde?

Professor Forde: To continue to be of service to all in bringing the skills and knowledge I have in my personal toolbox to address and help solve the global public health challenges we currently face.

 

–Tornia Charles

World Health Organization redesignates collaborating center at SGU

As public health has become even more of a focus with the emergence of COVID-19 worldwide, St. George’s University continues to be a beacon for education, research, and service collaboration in the Caribbean. The World Health Organization (WHO), together with its regional representative, the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), recently re-designated SGU’s Department of Public Health and Preventive Medicine (DPHPM) as a Collaborating Center (WHO CC) on Environmental and Occupational Health through August 2023.

Such centers are established to support global health initiatives implemented by the WHO, for the benefit of all member countries. The designation provides a foundation for collaborating centers to develop partnerships with national and international authorities, as well as to generate resources from funding partners.

Dr. Christine Richards

“The continued efforts by faculty and students as well as civil society, governmental and international partnerships demonstrate the benefit of collaboration in public health, which the WHO CC symbolizes,” said Dr. Christine Richards, DPHPM interim chair, who leads the Collaborating Center with SGU faculty member Odran Nigel Edwards.

The WHO CC was originally established on the SGU campus in 2012. The DPHPM, together with the Windward Island Research and Education Foundation (WINDREF), also located on SGU’s campus, are uniquely positioned to lend support, having collaborated on several environmental research programs that addressed occupational health among nutmeg workers and health care workers, renewable energy, land degradation, food and water borne diseases, and zoonotic diseases and presently the response to COVID-19.

SGU’s DPHPM, along with WINDREF, also serves as the Caribbean’s only United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Regional Collaborating Centre (RCC) since 2013. The UNFCCC RCC’s primary goal is to work with public and private sector organizations, as well as government agencies, to enhance the implementation of clear technology activities for the Caribbean the region in order to achieve carbon reduction targets to mitigate climate change.

– Brett Mauser

PhD grad: COVID-19 spread resembles prior dengue pandemics

The daughter of a Grenadian, Karin Schiøler, PhD ’06, frequented the Spice Isle as a child, visiting her Grandfather and family in La Digue, St. Andrew’s. Yet there was a period of 18 years where her life and studies brought her elsewhere. She didn’t return until the early 2000s when, while living in Martinique, she first realized that a curious mosquito-borne disease was posing a serious public health threat to the Caribbean and other tropical regions.

Dr. Schiøler seized the opportunity to undertake a research project on dengue in Grenada and simultaneously earned her PhD from St. George’s University, the second such degree to be awarded by SGU’s School of Graduate Studies. She has gone on to study mosquito-borne diseases primarily in Sub-Saharan Africa, and is currently an associate professor in the Global Health section at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark.

SGU News reached out to Dr. Schiøler to learn more about the research she has done, specifically on dengue, and how it applies to the current healthcare situation surrounding coronavirus (COVID-19).

St. George’s University: According to the CDC, up to 400 million people worldwide get infected with dengue each year. Why is the disease such a challenge to control?

Dr. Schiøler: The disease is difficult to control because it is transmitted by a mosquito that is extremely well adapted to the domestic environment of most tropical areas. In other words, it lives in and around our houses. We provide the water containers for its larvae and the blood for its egg production—a rather smart setup, at least for the mosquito. Eliminating the mosquito in an environmentally safe way has proven very difficult. At the same time, vaccine development has taken decades, and although a dengue vaccine was recently marketed in some countries, its wider use is limited as it is deemed safe only for those who have already had dengue at least once.

SGU: What parallels can you draw between dengue and what’s taking place with COVID-19?

Dr. Schiøler: Dengue epidemics are acute in the sense that they erupt more or less unexpectedly, rage through the population and then disappear again after weeks or months. The real problem is not as much the experience of the disease, but when all of a sudden a large proportion of the society has it and are home sick or hospitalized, then you have to worry not just for the individual but for society at large in terms of social and economic consequences. What we are currently experiencing with COVID-19 at a global level, many countries have experienced previously due to dengue. That is a healthcare system under siege and the disease taking hold of the entire society, often triggering a health emergency or even a state of emergency declaration.

About a third of those who are infected by dengue virus experience symptoms, and a fraction of those people die from dengue. In between, dengue may cause a range of different symptoms and severities, just like COVID-19. So another parallel that can be drawn is that of human behavior—risk understanding and risk perceptions. How do people perceive COVID-19 and the risk of infection, and how does that affect their behavior? How much can you control this behavior if people don’t feel at risk? In a way, I think COVID was due to happen one way or the other. It’s a large-scale version of what we see with national or regional epidemics, like dengue, where efforts to control the disease by targeting the mosquito often falls short as risk perception is relatively low among homeowners compared to the efforts required to keep the mosquito out of our houses and lives.

“What we are currently experiencing with COVID-19 at a global level, many countries have experienced previously due to dengue.”

 

SGU: How have you addressed the persistence and spread of dengue?

Dr. Schiøler: My colleagues and I focus on understanding the dengue mosquito and its habitat, from the household to a wider community level including institutions and specific commercial settings. I believe that this understanding remains the key to dengue control. One of the projects that I’m directly involved with in Zanzibar, Tanzania, is an effort to integrate dengue control into primary school curriculum so that children can learn and execute mosquito control adapted to the realities of their household and wider community. It’s a mixed-methods study where we aim to determine how the children perceive dengue and other mosquito-borne diseases, what they can and can’t do as children in terms of control activities, and what’s actually accepted in that particular society. In another study, also on Zanzibar, we are working in collaboration with the tourism sector to replace the heavy reliance on chemical insecticides with environmentally sustainable mosquito control measures at hotels.

SGU: How would you describe your experience studying dengue in the Caribbean?

Dr. Schiøler: My thesis focused around understanding who the main risk groups are when an arbovirus like dengue is transmitted in the population. I studied how it spread and how a local active surveillance system worked to address it. In collaboration with both public and private health care providers, I actively went out and pursued cases and set up a system with rapid diagnostic turnover and response to the health authorities.  The aim was to predict outbreaks by picking up on the early cases, and then activate vector control and public dissemination before epidemic onset. My study showed that, after diagnosing the index case, there was a seven to eight week lull before a full-blown epidemic. We learned how to react to the risk of a new virus and how it is likely to spread through a small-island population. This experience was groundbreaking for me in that it gave me the first experience of working across disciplines and with different institutions and actors from the nurses and doctors forming the frontline of Grenada’s health care system and officials at the Grenada Ministry of Health to researchers at the CDC in Puerto Rico, who helped me set up advanced diagnostic techniques in Grenada.

SGU: What led you down the path to becoming an infectious disease researcher?

Dr. Schiøler: For me, research has always been about curiosity. Why is dengue even a public health problem? Why has nobody solved this problem already? Of course, the reason is that dengue is a complex disease—it’s not that easy to solve. You may get a few answers to the problem, but that will create new questions, and you keep seeking new answers for these questions. It’s perhaps frustrating at times, yet very rewarding. I started out fairly narrowly in terms of an immunological interest in dengue symptoms, but that interest lead me in into new directions, where today my primary focus is more on the entomological aspects of disease transmission and the inclusion of the community and other stakeholders in finding sustainable solutions to mosquito control. It’s the prospect of change that makes it exciting, and the realization that there isn’t necessarily a simple biomedical answer to diseases such as dengue. One can argue the same in the case of COVID-19.

– Brett Mauser

 

SGU graduate Karin Schiøler, PhD, with Dean of Graduate Studies Dr. Calum Macpherson.

Novel NIH-funded master’s degree program offers deep dive into bioethics research

As the world eagerly awaits the results of groundbreaking research and clinical trials during the COVID-19 pandemic, the importance of bioethics—particularly research ethics—has been brought into focus.

A new collaboration between St. George’s University, Universidad Autonoma de Queretaro (UAQ) in Mexico, and Clarkson University in New York, funded by the NIH Fogarty International Center, allows research fellows from low- to middle-income countries (LMIC) to participate in a two-year online Master of Science in Bioethics (MScB) program through 2024. The goal of the program is to increase capacity for bioethics scholarship, research, research ethics review (IRBs), and publication in English- and Spanish-speaking countries of the Caribbean and Latin America.

“We collaboratively designed a bilingual curriculum that offers knowledge, skills training, and opportunities to conduct and publish research, and to become leaders in institutional and national policy, pedagogy, and clinical practice,” said Dr. Cheryl Cox Macpherson, head of bioethics in SGU’s Department of Clinical Skills, and director and principal investigator for the new program. “The diversity of those enrolled enriches the program by facilitating understanding and partnerships across different nations, cultures, disciplines, health systems, and languages.”

Dr. Cheryl Cox-Macpherson

The program is suitable for mid-career professionals looking to increase their understanding of research and bioethics, from doctors and veterinarians to lawyers, pharmacists, and other healthcare professionals. With further development, she envisions delivering the program and creating opportunities for dual degree options at SGU.

“For people who are professionals in health, or on the periphery of healthcare, and have an interest in research ethics or ethics consultation, there is an increasing need for these skills in today’s changing world,” Dr. Macpherson said. “Few physicians are trained to conduct ethics reviews or consultations, and even fewer veterinarians. This is a great opportunity for professionals who are looking to advance their credentials and their knowledge of research ethics.”

Maria de los Angeles Marina Adame Gayosso, the head of the Department for the Promotion of Education in Bioethics of the National Bioethics Commission in Mexico, is part of the charter class that began this fall. In addition to Mexico, the cohort is comprised of English- and Spanish-speaking students from LMICs such as Grenada, Guyana, and Honduras.

“I know what bioethics can do to help transform the lives of people, communities, and countries,” said Ms. Gayoso. “Our continent faces challenges at different levels that need to be analyzed and addressed from a bioethical perspective to generate public policies that are respectful of all forms of life. This program is designed to train leaders and turn students into agents of change for their countries and the region.”

“What we’ve done is really unique in that we are using online software to make it possible to enroll our trainees in both languages at the same time,” added Dr. Macpherson. “They’re talking to each other and working across languages, cultures, and borders.”

The program represents only the latest connection between SGU and the NIH Fogarty International Center, which supports revolutionary research and training in developing countries. As part of the newly launched Caribbean Research Ethics Education initiative (CREEi), SGU, UAQ, and Clarkson received NIH support to establish a one-year certificate program that featured graduate-level online and onsite bioethics courses from 2014 to 2019, which has evolved into the current two-year program. The NIH additionally has provided funding through Dr. Desiree LaBeaud’s laboratory at Stanford to the Windward Islands Research and Education Foundation (WINDREF), a 501(c)(3) research institute located on SGU’s True Blue campus.

The MScB will be supported by the NIH through 2024 and qualified and eligible individuals (must be a national of a regional LMIC) who are interested are invited to email Dr. Macpherson at ccox@sgu.edu.

– Brett Mauser

CREEi is supported by the NIH Fogarty International Center (FIC) Award #R25TW009731.