OSB archive
OSB archive

Video: Oxford's partnerships in global health

Jonathan Wood

This video [see below] was put together as part of a set of webpages that provide a great showcase of Oxford's research on the world's most pressing health problems in the parts of the globe where it matters most. It's life-changing research that perhaps we don’t celebrate enough.

After all, Oxford's global health programme got special mention as the university retained its crown as best in the world for medicine in the Times Higher Education's World University Rankings recently.

And the university's Tropical Medicine research pages note that currently recommended treatments for malaria, dengue shock syndrome, typhoid, melioidosis, TB meningitis, diphtheria, leptospirosis are all based on work conducted by Oxford scientists.

The video and the mini-website on Oxford’s partnerships in global health give a taster of some of the projects going on in over 30 different countries around the world (check the pins in the map).

It's clear even from a quick browse through these pages that the success of this research – from tackling infectious diseases like malaria, HIV/AIDS and flu to the burden of cancer, diabetes and depression is built on long-standing partnerships with local hospitals and universities.

This is not a new model. The Wellcome Trust has funded overseas units in Kenya, Thailand  and Vietnam for decades, in which Oxford faculty members based overseas work with local doctors and researchers on an equal footing. Developing training and infrastructure has also been important, helping to inspire the next generation of health leaders in the developing world.

Nor is this research happening in a bubble or an ivory tower. It is research committed to providing practical solutions that will save lives.

One example comes from last week, with an assessment of a programme in Africa to increase access to the most effective malaria drugs.

The recommended first-line treatment for malaria are artemesinin-based combination therapies, or ACTs (the effectiveness of which Oxford researchers based overseas demonstrated). But access to these drugs in many areas is incomplete, and the use of less effective, poor quality or fake drugs can make the development of drug resistance more likely – and indeed resistance has been detected in parts of South-East Asia (thanks to partnerships involving Oxford researchers based there).

Recently, the Affordable Medicines Facility for Malaria (AMFm) has sought to increase the availability and affordability of ACTs massively in a number of countries in Africa – particularly among private-sector outlets where many buy treatments when they have a fever that might be malaria.

This hasn't been without controversy (see pieces online at BBC News and The Guardian), but an independent review in The Lancet  last week suggests the data so far show the programme has transformed access to ACTs. And a smaller piece in Science, again last week, uses maps of malaria prevalence across Africa (put together by partnerships led by Oxford researchers) to argue the case for the facility to continue.

A decision will be made this month on whether to continue the AMFm in a modified form or not. As that decision comes up, a comment piece on the Lancet research, written by a group that started discussions that led later to AMFm being set up (including Oxford’s Nick White and Richard Peto), notes that where the programme was implemented to a substantial degree, AMFm met or exceeded benchmarks for availability, price, and market share of ACTs. They conclude: ‘We must acknowledge that an efficient approach to subsidising antimalarial drugs has worked, making them available in the private sector where people go to buy them.'

You get the picture. Yes, the political, economic and social aspects of delivering effective healthcare in resource-poor countries is complex. But Oxford’s overseas partnerships are delivering the evidence and change that can help save lives.