Making a difference in NTDs: from Bamako, Mali to Ottawa, Canada

Moussa Sangare is a medical doctor, currently undertaking his PhD in population health at the University of Ottawa. He has an interest and passion for healthcare delivery in developing countries and solving the problem of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs).

We checked in with Moussa, in the lead-up to World NTD Day to ask about his work with NTDs and why he’s looking at Canada to be a leader in NTD action.

What has inspired you to do a PhD and complete your education in Canada?

Moussa, presenting his research poster at a conference.

In July 2017, I completed my master’s degree program in tropical disease control. By the end of my master’s degree, I realized that I lacked the skills and higher education needed to be an independent academic researcher. I decided to embark on a PhD to fill these skill gaps. At this point, my research brought me to Canada where I met Dr. Krentel, a leading expert in NTDs, who became my supervisor. Meeting Dr. Krentel was a miracle for the success of this process and I have really enjoyed working with her as a supervisor. In the fall of 2020, I was admitted to the University of Ottawa’s interdisciplinary population health program. The PhD program in Population Health fit well with my professional career goals, since I needed to acquire additional scientific knowledge to contribute to the field of global health.

Some may ask, why Ottawa? Ottawa is the destination of many international students and has provided me with the opportunity to meet people from around the world. Completing my PhD in Canada has been an enriching human and multi-cultural experience that will allow me to reach new horizons and expand my professional and cultural background.

What is your experiences with NTDs in Mali?

In 2011, I began working with the Filariasis Unit of the NIH-Mali ICER, where I researched community directed interventions to improve health care in nomadic communities (Brieger et al. 2015). The majority of my research has focused on lymphatic filariasis (LF), in Mali. LF is an NTD caused by the parasitic worm Wuchereria bancrofti. My research interests have focused on these types of infections and how they modulate the host immune response. Parasitic infections of this sort induce an inflammatory response, resulting in LF, a disease marked by swelling in the arms, legs and genitals due to disruption of the lymphatic system (Nutman et al. 2011).

I additionally participated in a LF field-based research team to monitor Wuchereria bancrofti transmission following the interruption of Mass Drug Administration (MDA) in Mali. MDA programs are key to eliminating NTDs, like LF, and our team demonstrated a significant increase in prevalence of filarial infection, after MDA interruption (Coulibaly et al. 2013; Coulibaly et al. 2016).

During the past 5 years, I have been focusing on another NTD, cutaneous leishmaniasis, in Mali, caused by infection with the Leishmania major parasite. I was responsible for field-based screening of individuals with active filarial infection and/or Leishmania major infection under the supervision of Dr. Roshanak Tolouei Semnani (Dr Nutman Lab, National Institutes of Health, USA). Initially, we determined the prevalence of infection with filarial and Leishmania major parasites in two ecological areas of Mali. This approach established the existence of both filarial and Leishmania infections in specific regions of Mali (Sangare et al. 2018).

Currently, I am involved in a multi-center clinical trial to compare the efficacy of the antibiotic, doxycycline, versus placebo in improving lymphedema /elephantiasis that occurs in those with LF. Those with LF often experience disfigurement, disability and resulting social exclusion. Our future work will seek to understand how the stigmas of this disease affect people’s social and family life and how we can help to address these issues. In parallel, we are interested in improving mass drug administration coverage (MDA) against neglected tropical diseases among vulnerable populations including nomadic communities, internally displaced persons and seasonal workers. Dr. Krentel, my home institution and I are working on these issues in partnership with our funders. The basis of my PhD work at the University of Ottawa focuses on improving MDA coverage by reaching vulnerable populations.

We thank Moussa for taking the time to talk to us for World NTD Day – we’re excited to your work progress in Canada!

Moussa’s current research is funded from the Coalition for Operational Research on Neglected Tropical Diseases (COR-NTD), which is funded at the Task Force for Global Health primarily by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, by UK aid from the British government, and by the United States Agency for International Development through its Neglected Tropical Diseases Program.