Oxford is at the forefront of teaching and research to help combat diseases affecting populations worldwide. Through its world-leading Centre for Tropical Medicine and Global Health (CTMGH), the University is working to find practical solutions to the problems these diseases cause. The centre conducts its research overseas in Africa and Asia, and across two sites in Oxford.

Professor Trudie Lang

Director of The Global Health Network in Tropical Medicine, Nuffield Department of Medicine

Professor Trudie Lang. Photo by John Cairns.

Professor Trudie Lang leads The Global Health Network, a platform that enables life-saving evidence to be generated in developing countries by supporting, guiding and training health workers in undertaking research. ‘I think, more than many other universities, Oxford is much more out there than it is here,’ she says.

The network, Professor Lang explains, focuses on ‘trying to enable evidence to be generated in places of the world where there’s just not enough data.’ In 2013, the World Health Organisation said that unless low-income countries became the generators and not the recipients of data, there would never be any real difference in maternal mortality rates. ‘What tends to happen’, she says, ‘is that the overseas research is led by us – pharmaceutical companies and universities – and that’s what needs to change.’

What tends to happen is that the overseas research is led by us – pharmaceutical companies and universities – and that’s what needs to change.Professor Trudie Lang

This became particularly evident in 2014, during the West African Ebola epidemic. Professor Lang and her colleagues at the CTMGH worked around the clock to set up a clinical trial to test whether novel antiviral brincidofovir could be effective against the disease. Although the trial was successful, she believes that had the research capacity been in place, Oxford would not have needed to step in: ‘Sure, we can support them from the background and be collaborative, but it should actually be them leading the charge.’

Through its three overseas tropical research programmes – located in Kenya, Thailand and Vietnam – the University works to underpin exactly that aim. Operating since the early nineties, the programmes are now fully embedded into local health services, and focus primarily on training the local staff they employ. ‘They enrol in DPhil programmes, masters’ programmes, research fellowships,’ explains Professor Lang. ‘It’s all about inspiring generations of scientific leaders, which is working really, really well.’

It’s all about inspiring generations of scientific leaders, which is working really, really well.Professor Trudie Lang

Back in Oxford, the centre’s role is ‘more cross-cutting, concentrating on the teaching, the enabling and the methodology.’ Included within this remit is the new graduate course in International Health and Tropical Medicine, a one-year programme that seeks to develop students’ understanding of major global health problems in resource-limited settings.

Thanks to vital support provided by donors, students from all around the world are given the opportunity to enrol. ‘It’s fantastic,’ says Professor Lang. ‘They get the full Oxford experience, but we hope that when they graduate, they return to their home countries to apply what they have learned.’

Poojan Shrestha, Arcadia Weidenfeld-Hoffmann Scholar

MSc in International Health and Tropical Medicine

Poojan Shrestha. Photo by John Cairns.

‘Antimicrobial resistance is something I’m really passionate about,’ says Poojan Shrestha, dentist turned clinical researcher from Kathmandu, Nepal. ‘Even before coming to Oxford, I was working on it. I helped to set up a huge database in my hospital, to see how resistance was evolving there. So as soon as I saw that this topic was available, I dove straight in.’

Before applying for the master’s, Poojan worked at Oxford University’s Clinical Research Unit in Nepal as a research fellow. ‘I realised how much of a burden infectious diseases were,’ he recalls. ‘It’s a global problem but when you look at the number of deaths associated, it’s much more of a problem for developing countries. And when these infections become resistant, that’s a huge obstacle.’

As part of his studies, Poojan spent two months in Thailand with Oxford’s Mathematical and Economic MODelling Group. ‘I’ve been calculating the external cost of antibiotic resistance, looking not only at what you would pay at the pharmacy, but at other elements such as the external cost of air pollution, for example. It’s a very new approach – but very important,’ he explains.

We want to try and figure out a way that we can all stay in touch and work together on future projects.Poojan Shrestha

Poojan hopes to continue his research once the course has ended, but is also eyeing other opportunities. ‘We want to try and figure out a way that we can all stay in touch and work together on future projects,’ says Poojan, of his course-mates. ‘We may be from 14 different countries, but there’s so much cohesion in our group, and that in itself opens up really exciting possibilities.’

Manar Marzouk, Eve Jones Memorial Scholar

MSc in International Health and Tropical Medicine

Manar Marzouk. Photo by John Cairns.

As a 15-year-old living in Syria, Manar Marzouk dreamt of a career working with Médecins Sans Frontières: ‘I never thought I would stay in Syria. I wanted to travel around the world, to wherever there was a disaster, and help affected populations.’ In order to fulfil her goal, Manar studied pharmacy at the University of Damascus, but the outbreak of war in 2011 caused her to rethink her plans.

Instead of travelling abroad, she remained in Syria, undertaking a number of humanitarian roles with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), and later with UNICEF. It was only after being persuaded by a friend – an Oxford alumnus – that Manar decided to apply for the master’s course in International Health: ‘I sent the application and thought no-one would read it, but it happened!’

I sent the application and thought no one would read it, but it happened!Manar Marzouk

Manar is now undertaking research into the management of cancer care for Syrian refugees in Jordan, with a focus on the challenges facing healthcare workers and policy providers. ‘There is very limited research done in this area,’ she explains. ‘I was seeing this on a daily basis in Syria. I was seeing patients with chronic and non-communicable diseases becoming more and more neglected.’ The course, Manar reflects, has made her ‘believe in the power of research to make change’, and she hopes to continue working with displaced and refugee populations when she graduates.

For Manar, the Oxford experience has been transformative: ‘I think the master’s here was a master’s in life actually; the people I’ve met have become like family to me. It’s changed me as a person, and I know I’ll never regret it.’