As the global community marks World Hepatitis Day, QF partner university Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar, home to the region’s first WHO Collaborating Center for Infectious Disease Epidemiology Analytics, continues its fight against viral hepatitis
Within one of Qatar Foundation’s international partner universities, a specialized group of experts is working to make the region more resilient against the ravages of infection diseases – including hepatitis.
The Infectious Disease Epidemiology Group (IDEG) at Weill Cornell Medicine-Qatar (WCM-Q) has been designated as a World Health Organization (WHO) Collaborating Center for Infectious Disease Epidemiology Analytics. It is the first of its kind in the Eastern Mediterranean Region, which consists of 22 countries and has a population of nearly 583 million people.
The WHO designation represents a landmark for the IDEG which was established a little over a decade ago. Led by Prof. Laith Abu-Raddad, Professor of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at WCM-Q, the group has since carried out over 100 studies on the epidemiology of viral hepatitis, HIV/AIDS, and sexually-transmitted diseases (STDs) in the region. The studies – most of which were funded by Qatar National Research Fund, a member of Qatar Foundation – have played a key role in improving the understanding of the epidemiology of these diseases, with several of them being instrumental in helping WHO formulate its public health policy and programs for the region.
“Achieving WHO collaborating center status is the fruit of relentless work done by the IDEG over the past decade,” said Professor Abu-Raddad.
“This designation allows us to become a formal partner of an international collaborative network carrying out activities in support of WHO’s public health mission and programs, and allows us to make a real tangible impact in the region’s fight against infectious diseases.”
The biggest challenge with viral hepatitis is that most people that contract it are unaware of it, which means they are also likely to infect others without realizing it
The center’s short-term goal is to focus specifically on viral hepatitis, HIV/AIDS, and STDs. Known as the “silent killer” disease, viral hepatitis is a disease that causes inflammation of the liver leading to an array of complications such as liver cancer and liver cirrhosis. It is a major public health burden and a leading cause of death globally, a fact that is being emphasized on World Hepatitis Day, which takes place on July 28 every year. And it is also the fifth leading cause of death in the Eastern Mediterranean Region, which is more severely affected by hepatitis than any other region in the world.
With the recent availability of effective treatments, WHO’s global strategy has the goal of eliminating viral hepatitis by 2030. The IDEG aims to help it realize that goal.
“The biggest challenge with viral hepatitis is that most people that contract it are unaware of it, which means they are also likely to infect others without realizing it,” said Professor Abu-Raddad.
“The first step to reducing its incidence is to identify its carriers. For the past 10 years, we have been doing mapping in different countries to facilitate a comprehensive understanding of viral hepatitis in the region and to assess the geographic variation in prevalence and treatment needs. These findings are then used to prioritize testing of heavily affected regions and to formulate localized intervention programs.
We are positive we will play a key role in supporting WHO in achieving its vision for a hepatitis-free world by 2030
“With the Eastern Mediterranean Region being the most severely affected region, there is no doubt we have a mammoth task ahead of us, but we are positive we will play a key role in supporting WHO in achieving its vision for a hepatitis-free world by 2030.”
The long-term goal of the center is to be a resource and reference point for the region’s policymakers to ensure that public health policy and programs are informed by rigorous science. “This region is going through a major demographic transition and difficult economic conditions,” explained Professor Abu-Raddad.
“Its population is rapidly aging, which means increased healthcare and public health needs. Unfortunately, many governments are unprepared to face these growing challenges. Our long-term goal is to be the center of excellence for our region, to work with governments to help formulate their public health policy and programs based on scientific evidence, cost-effectiveness and economic impact analyses.”
Our students are at the center of everything we do, and this center will offer them added opportunities to work on some of the most pressing issues in the global sphere of public health
This center will also offer students an invaluable opportunity to participate in meaningful practice-based research projects and possibly even be involved with WHO in implementing some of their programs.
“Our students are at the center of everything we do, and this center will offer them added opportunities to work on some of the most pressing issues in the global sphere of public health,” said Professor Abu-Raddad.
“This is very important for us as a college because we believe our role is not just to generate scientific knowledge but also to nurture the generation that will carry the torch forward and become researchers that will benefit Qatar and the wider region.”
Dr. Ahmed Al-Mandhari, WHO Regional Director for the Eastern Mediterranean, said, “Collaborating centers such as IDEG are our critical partners in our endeavor to achieve our vision for the region, ‘Vision 2023’, with its goal of ‘Health for All, by All’.
“I would like to commend the high-level political support by the State of Qatar and the farsighted leadership of the Qatar Foundation and the Ministry of Public Health, which have made these strategic partnerships and investments for global health possible.”