Responding to the challenge of MERS-CoV: Development and testing of interventions to reduce risk among Bedouin populations in Southern Jordan
Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) is a recently identified 'emerging infectious disease' first seen in Jordan and Saudi Arabia in 2012. Clinical cases can present as a sudden acute respiratory infection, with rapid onset pneumonia and death, although milder infections also occur (in some cases without any symptoms at all). Since the initial outbreaks in 2012, there have been almost 2500 confirmed cases, with over a third of those infected subsequently dying from the disease (848 people to date). Confirmed cases have been reported across 27 countries, although the majority have been in the Arabian Peninsula, with Saudi Arabia the disease epicentre (over 80% of all confirmed cases). Primary infection in humans occurs through contact with infected dromedary camels (or camel products) and camel populations act as the host reservoir for the virus, however infection in camels causes only mild symptoms, similar to a common cold (and may cause no symptoms at all). Once someone becomes infected in this way secondary human-to-human transmission of the virus can then occur (often in a hospital setting) with the potential to cause large scale outbreaks such as those seen in South Korea and Saudi Arabia in recent years. Jordan's strategic location at the centre of current Middle Eastern crises means that its stability within the region is of global significance. Enormous influxes of displaced peoples into Jordan from the conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Yemen among others (accounting for over 30% of the population) have placed unprecedented demands on Jordan's national disease surveillance, response and health-care services and increased the risk of catastrophic disease outbreaks occurring in the future, including MERS-CoV. Jordan's long, porous border with Saudi Arabia, across which frequent movements of people and livestock occur (particularly among rural Bedouin populations in the south of the country) and large camel populations, mean that the risks posed by MERS-CoV remain high. The World Health Organization (WHO) have designated MERS-CoV to be a Blueprint Priority Disease for Research and Development, alongside other 'emerging infectious diseases' that represent a potential global threat, including Ebola, Lassa and Nipah viruses. The development of vaccines against MERS-CoV, for use in both camels and humans, is already at an advanced stage, however knowledge regarding the diseases epidemiology and cultural context (which are essential for effective vaccine deployment) is currently lacking. A similar lack of knowledge has delayed the deployment of other vaccines in the past (e.g. recently the Lassa virus vaccine in West Africa) and so it is important that deployment of future MERS-CoV vaccines is not delayed for the same reasons. It is crucial therefore that appropriate research be conducted among high-risk populations. With this in mind, and building on the findings of successful GRCF Foundation Award research, we aim to conduct state-of-the-art interdisciplinary research to determine the biological and sociocultural contexts of the disease among at-risk Bedouin populations in southern Jordan. In particular, we are seeking to understand which individuals, or camels, should be targeted for future vaccination, the correct seasons for the deployment of such vaccines and the sociocultural issues that are driving the infection, with consideration of these sociocultural issues vital when looking at potential control measures for the disease, including vaccination. Through this project we thus aim to develop appropriate, community based behavioural interventions that will reduce the risk of infection among these communities (as well as considering the potential role of vaccines in the future). We are also aiming to build Jordan's capacity for strategic research, surveillance and control activities to confront the challenge posed by MERS-CoV (as well as by other 'emerging infectious diseases').
The Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF) supports cutting-edge research to address challenges faced by developing countries. The fund addresses the UN sustainable development goals. It aims to maximise the impact of research and innovation to improve lives and opportunity in the developing world.
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