WINDREF Combats Neglected Tropical Diseases

david molyneuxOn Tuesday evening, June 17th, over 100 guests of Windward Islands Research and Education Foundation (WINDREF) convened at London’s House of Lords for a fundraiser to aid in the awareness and eradication of the world’s neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), especially those affecting the smaller states of the Caribbean. The event included the announcement of Lord May of Oxford as the 2008 recipient of the Mike Fisher Memorial Award.

The Director of WINDREF, in his introduction to the evening, its purpose, and the keynote speaker, Professor David Molyneux, described the institute as “uniquely placed to address the problems of NTDs in the Caribbean with its collaborations with local governments and worldwide research institutions.”

Lord Soulsby, the evening’s host and the president of WINDREF, told the guests  “NTDs can be treated or prevented by the use of donated or extremely cheap drugs.  The NTDs sap the energy and blunt the willpower of the poor on a massive scale. They bring stigma, disability and reduced educational prospects.”  Lord Soulsby went on to lament that the fight against NTDs, in terms of resources provided, suffers in comparison with high profile diseases such as HIV/AIDS, malaria and TB. Lord Soulsby, the first recipient of the Fisher Award in 2006, expressed gratitude to all attendees for their generous support, affirming that the funds raised would be put to good use.

Professor David Molyneux, President of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, drew upon his experience and wealth of knowledge to further substantiate the necessary fight against NTDs in the Caribbean and called for much greater international recognition of the problems caused to the poorest people of Latin American and the Caribbean by Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) which he has described as the “living legacy of slavery.”

“These are the group of diseases which afflict the poorest of the poor, producing disabling and sometimes disfiguring conditions,” he said.  They represent a burden far greater than malaria or TB.” He added,”Although new funds have been announced, there are serious concerns that the small island states of the Caribbean, in particular, will be overlooked.  It should be pointed out that many of the NTDs that now occur in Latin American and the Caribbean were first brought there during the Atlantic slave trade – so the NTDs represent a tragic living legacy of slavery.  We therefore have a moral obligation to confront them with much greater vigor.”

Professor David Molyneux is also Director of the Lymphatic Filariasis Support Center at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, and Professor Tropical Health Sciences of the University of Liverpool.  He was elected Executive Secretary of the Global Alliance to Eliminate Lymphatic Filariasis in 2006.

Since St. Goerge’s University’s serves as home-base for WINDREF, the evening appropriately began with a beautiful rendition of the National Anthem of Grenada, performed by Miss Vivian Burkhardt, Miss Grenada World who is a 3rd year pre-med student at St. Georges University. Dinner followed at the historic Cholmondeley Room.

The Mike Fisher Award recipient, Lord May, has a long and distinguished career which includes Chief Scientific Adviser to HM Government, President of the Royal Society, and a Professor at Sydney, Princeton, Oxford and Imperial College London.  He is a Fellow of Merton College, Oxford, and a crossbencher in the House of Lords.  Lord May is the recipient of many honorary degrees and prizes, the most recent of which was the 2007 Copley medal, the Royal Society’s oldest and highest award presented for distinguished scientific achievement.  In his absence, Lord Soulsby accepted the award on behalf of Lord May.

The late Mike Fisher, who passed away at his home in Grenada in 2005, was, by all accounts, a modest, self-effacing scientist, whose perseverance led to perhaps his most profound discovery – Ivermectin- a powerful drug against roundworm parasites which cause River Blindness, the scourge of children living near rivers and other inland waters.

St. George’s University Chancellor, Dr. Charles R. Modica congratulated Lord Soulsby and his team as they approach their 10th anniversary year of WINDREF in the United Kingdom.  Dr. Modica conveyed the importance of St. George’s partnership with WINDREF since the Foundation was established on the True Blue campus in 1994 by the late Dr. Keith B. Taylor, who also served at the time as the University’s Vice Chancellor. The Foundation’s research, mainly in the field of public health, has facilitated many of the practicums of SGU’s public health students and the research carried out by PhD and MSc students from both the School of Medicine and School of Veterinary Medicine.

A final tribute to WINDREF was delivered that evening by Baroness Howells of St. Davids, Grenada. Ros Howells has been a diplomat, Deputy High Commissioner for Grenada and a role model for hundreds of men and women working in the field of community and race relations.  She was ennobled to the House of Lords in 1999. Baroness Howells joined the WINDREF board in February 2006 and has recently been elected to the board of St. George’s University Trust in the United Kingdom.

Founded in 1994, WINDREF is located on St. George’s University’s True Blue campus.  It provides the Eastern Caribbean with a unique scientific resource center capable of coordinating international collaborative research of the highest caliber in such areas as medical and veterinary public health, ecology, and marine and terrestrial biology.  WINDREF adheres to the highest ethical and academic standards in the design and conduct of research, providing first rate academic opportunities to scientists from the Caribbean and around the world, thereby enhancing the knowledge and welfare of local and international communities.