Assoc. Prof Le Van Tan, Head of the Emerging Infections research team at the Oxford University Clinical Research Unit (OUCRU), collaborates with colleagues to analyse the test results in the search for the causative agent of emerging infections.

October 19, 2023

OUCRU Bolsters Ho Chi Minh City’s Responses to Emerging Infectious Diseases

In collaboration with Ho Chi Minh City's healthcare sector, OUCRU has successfully identified the primary agent causing the outbreak of pink eye disease. Testings revealed an unexpected finding: enterovirus was the primary agent, contrary to previous reports from Vietnam wherein adenovirus was the culprit.

Vietnam, Ho Chi Minh City – In the face of the recent emergence of infectious diseases such as pink eye and mpox, Ho Chi Minh City’s healthcare sector has demonstrated an unwavering dedication to combat these threats. The city’s proactive approach includes the implementation of robust disease prevention strategies, the development of treatment medications and vaccines, and the crucial step of accurately identifying the causative agents.

The Ho Chi Minh City Department of Health, in its 2023 Development and Action Plans, acknowledges the persistent challenge of infectious diseases and emphasises the need for precise identification of causative agents of emerging infectious diseases.

The identification of disease-causing agents must be 100% accurate

Assoc. Prof. Le Van Tan, Head of the Emerging Infections research team at the Oxford University Clinical Research Unit (OUCRU), based at the Ho Chi Minh City Hospital for Tropical Diseases, sheds light on the unpredictable nature of emerging infectious diseases. The task of predicting which emerging agents will cause diseases in humans remains a formidable challenge.

To swiftly respond to emergency situations triggered by emerging infectious diseases, the research team at OUCRU collaborates closely with the Hospital for Tropical Diseases in Ho Chi Minh City to establish a programme of research. This has enabled the team to efficiently tackle emerging infections and provide timely support to the Department of Health.

During a recent outbreak of pink eye disease, the research team worked tirelessly throughout the night to identify the causative agent, as requested by the Department of Health. Despite the urgency of the situation, the researchers maintained a delicate balance between time constraints and research accuracy, ensuring promptness without compromising the quality of their findings.

“Despite time pressure, our ultimate aim is to ensure that we provide accurate results to the local policy makers as they respond to the outbreaks,”

Prof. Le Van Tan, Head of Emerging Infections research team at OUCRU

The outcome of approximately ten hours of testing revealed an unexpected finding: enterovirus was the primary agent causing the pink eye disease, contrary to previous reports from Vietnam wherein adenovirus was the culprit. This crucial identification of the causative agent serves as the foundation for disease prevention strategies, and the development of treatment medications and vaccines.

“If we had simply treated adenovirus as the usual suspect in the case of red eye disease in HCMC, without conducting thorough tests, decoding genetic information, and subsequently assuming that adenovirus was the primary cause, we would have failed to recognize the involvement of enterovirus in the recent outbreak.

For emerging infectious diseases, one of the first key steps is to identify the causative agent, which would serve as the foundation for the development of disease prevention strategies, treatment medications and vaccines, shared Prof. Tan.

Enhancing testing capabilities, multidisciplinary and multinational collaboration

“We may need to utilise various approaches to address the diagnostic challenges presented by emerging infectious diseases. As such this necessitates continuous efforts in local capacity building” shared Prof. Tan.

This includes the establishment of research networks, building local capacities, and training highly skilled researchers, all crucial to effectively tackle future challenges.

Moreover, multidisciplinary and multinational collaboration involving clinical experts, research teams, epidemiologists, and healthcare policymakers plays a vital role in this endeavour.

OUCRU actively promotes collaboration and knowledge sharing within the region and internationally. They have launched the SEACOVARIANTS programme to enhance research capacity on immunity in Southeast Asian countries such as Vietnam, Indonesia, and Thailand, with expert support from prominent nations including the United Kingdom, the United States, and Singapore.

This programme not only focuses on detecting causative agents and screening for SARS-CoV-2 variants but also trains research teams in immunology to assess risks posed by new variants, providing valuable insights for vaccine development and appropriate disease prevention strategies.

According to Dr. Nguyen Thanh Dung, the Director of the Hospital for Tropical Diseases, the hospital and OUCRU will conduct research on the causative agents of community-acquired pneumonia as part of PREPARE (Programme for Research in Preparedness and Response), a collaborative program among Southeast Asian countries. This initiative would help to establish a solid foundation for the region to effectively respond to emerging infections in the future.

HCMC Hospital of Tropical Diseases and OUCRU COVID-19 Testing Team

The ongoing battle between humans and microorganisms

Mr. Nguyen Van Vinh Chau, Deputy Director of the Ho Chi Minh City Department of Health, acknowledges the enduring challenge posed by infectious diseases throughout human history. He sees the emergence of infectious diseases as both an opportunities and challenges for infectious disease specialists to engage in the perpetual battle between humans and the microbial world, carrying a noble mission.

Mr. Nguyen Hong Tam, Director of the Ho Chi Minh City Center for Disease Control (HCDC),  emphasises the HCDC’s responsibility to continuously enhance its professional capacity in alignment with its entrusted mission. The HCDC plays a crucial role in advising and organizing specialised, technical, and operational activities related to the prevention and control of infectious and non-communicable diseases. Additionally, it addresses the impact of risk factors on health and effectively manages community health within the city.

As Ho Chi Minh City continues to face emerging infectious disease challenges, its healthcare sector remains vigilant, actively pursuing accurate identification of causative agents while fostering collaboration and knowledge sharing on both regional and international levels. Through these concerted efforts, the city aims to bolster its response capabilities and protect the well-being of its residents.

Reproduced from the original article by Xuan Mai, Tuoi Tre News

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