February 21, 2014
One of the benefits of studying at American University of the Caribbean School of Medicine (AUC) is the opportunity to participate in research and public health initiatives. As a Caribbean medical school committed to advancing public health, AUC has an important role to play in addressing the healthcare challenges of the region. A new initiative, led by the Sint Maarten Ministry of Health, Social Development and Labor, will draw upon AUC faculty and physicians-in-training to combat the spread of mosquito-borne diseases.
Two of these diseases are dengue fever and chikungunya. Both diseases, characterized by flu-like symptoms, are transmitted by the bite of infected Aedes aegypti mosquitoes. Dengue is prevalent in Asia, Africa, and parts of the Americas, but chikungunya has only recently been confirmed in the western hemisphere. In Sint Maarten, the Honorable Minister Cornelius de Weever has requested AUC’s assistance in efforts to identify high-risk areas for mosquito breeding in Sint Maarten and determine a baseline on risk areas.
“AUC is honored to partner with the government of Sint Maarten to address this serious health issue,” said Ronald Testa, PhD, dean of medical sciences. “This initiative provides our faculty and physicians-in-training with an opportunity to study medicine in a global and regional context, with the potential to affect the health and well-being of our local community and the wider region.”
The global incidence of dengue has risen dramatically in recent years, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). An estimated 500,000 people each year require hospitalization for serious dengue, with death occurring in about 2.5 percent of cases. Now the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control is monitoring the first cases of chikungunya reported in the Caribbean. Although most people who suffer from chikungunya recover completely, in some cases joint pain can persist for a prolonged period, according to WHO.
Kathleen Shupe, PhD, AUC professor of microbiology and immunology, is part of the AUC team working with the government. Dr. Shupe, who is a former lead infectious disease epidemiologist with the Texas Department of Health, said, “This is a unique opportunity for our students to examine an important healthcare challenge from multiple perspectives: the transmission, diagnosis, and treatment of disease, as well as the public health response.”