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LIDC Fellowship has allowed us to better understand zoonotic infections – say first LIDC Fellows as they set out to analyse fieldwork data

In May 2013 LIDC awarded its first round of LIDC Fellowships as part of a new scheme that aims to support interdisciplinary research projects in international development across five Bloomsbury Colleges.

Three fellowships of £5,000 each were awarded to teams of two or more researchers from at least two Bloomsbury Colleges. One of the Fellowships went to a team from London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and Royal Veterinary College (RVC): Martha Betson (RVC), Julian Drewe (RVC) and Kimberly Fornace (LSHTM) – pictured above at a meeting at LIDC offices.

The team applied for seed funding from LIDC to explore the ecological factors that influence the movement and behaviour of macaques (pictured left)  in Kudat and Pulau Banggi in Sabah, Malaysia. Fifty percent of forests in the region have been lost to deforestation in the last twenty years, which changes wildlife habitats and animal behaviour (e.g. animals move closer to human dwellings). This, the researchers predict, may lead to a rise in infections transmitting between wild animals and humans (zoonoses). For example, the malaria parasite found in primates, Plasmodium knowlesi, is a zoonotic pathogen likely to be affected by changing patterns of land use.

Nine months after the award of the grant the team have been on two field trips to Malaysia. Using funds from LIDC, they purchased a thermal camera to locate macaques in the forest (pictured below - fieldworkers looking for macaques) and are trialling it in ground-based and aerial surveys. In addition to GIS maps, the team conducted interviews and questionnaires with people living in the area on recent macaque sightings.

 


The next stage of the work is to analyse fieldwork data, which the team is busy with at the moment.
 ‘The preliminary data gained so far is giving us a better understanding of how and where people and macaques interact within these different landscapes. - said Kimberly Fornace (LSHTM).

Once this part of the project is finished, the team aim to apply for additional funding to enable the preliminary findings to lead to a larger scale risk analysis of infectious disease transmission between macaques and humans in the region.

Julian Drewe (RVC) said:
 ‘The LIDC Fellowship grant has allowed us to start this exciting project and has helped establish new links and strengthen existing collaborations involving RVC, LSHTM and LIDC. It is hoped that a better understanding of the factors which affect interactions between wild primates and humans in the region will lead to improved disease control and ecological management.’
 

The LIDC Fellowship Scheme 2014 is now open, with applications being accepted until 23 April. Read more and apply