Scabies control trial underway in Fiji's outer islands | Pacific Beat

Scabies control trial underway in Fiji's outer islands

Scabies control trial underway in Fiji's outer islands

Updated 15 November 2012, 18:31 AEDT

In Fiji an Australian funded project trying to find an effective way of controlling the skin disease scabies has started its work.

The trial will use the input of over two thousand Fijians living on a number of isolated outer islands, to find out which is the most effective drug and treatment for the condition, which affects people right across the Pacific region, as well as other parts of the developing world.

As well, the start of trials has coincided with a major scientific gathering in the USA, which is focussed on controlling tropical diseases, and those working on the Fiji project are there trying to attract the attention of future aid donors to support their work.

Pacific Correspondent Campbell Cooney has this report.

Presenter: Campbell Cooney

Speaker: Sydney based dermatologist Dr Margot Whitfield, Dr Andrew Steer is a Pedeatrician and infectious disease physician at the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne, Ms Lucia Romani, a clinical trial coordinator with the Kirby Institute of the University of New South Wales


COONEY: In March a group of Australian scientists, researchers and medical practitioners travelled to Fiji to begin working with local health workers and the Ministry of Health on developing a trial project aimed at controlling the skin disease scabies, which is endemic across the Pacific.
WHITFIELD: So much that you can't just treat a single person and just their family and be gone with it like it is in most of Australia.
COONEY: That's Sydney based dermatologist Dr Margot Whitfield, one of the driving forces behind the project, which is trying to find out what is the most effective drug and treatment method for a large group of people.
After nearly seven months of preparation and training, a month and a half ago work got underway.
WHITFIELD: The villagers were extremely happy to take part. They recognised that scabies is a big problem for them. The islands, some small islands which are off the coast of Fiji Levu, they're between two and five hours by boat. The islands are relatively low population with only about 500 people, somewhere between 250 and 500 people living on an island. They're not really islands on the tourist track I must say.
STEER: Obviously we work where the disease is a priority, it's a majority priority for the people of Fiji and the government, particularly the Ministry of Health.
COONEY: Dr Andrew Steer is a Paediatrician and infectious disease physician at the Royal Children's Hospital in Melbourne, and is the Project's principal investigator, with the job of analysing its results.
A lot of the ground work on the islands has been led and organised by Lucia Romani, a clinical trial coordinator with the Kirby Institute at the University of New South Wales, and she says without local workers and their knowledge projects like this would never get off the ground.
ROMANI: On an island that has about one-thousand people there's only one nurse looking after the whole population. So this gives us a great advantage because it's one person, which is the one that we train and engage our project, knows by name pretty much everyone in the population. So it's a very personal approach.
COONEY: But Ms Romani says at first the problems they were dealing with seemed unbeatable. 
ROMANI: We had boats broken in the middle of ocean, we had delivery problems, we had staff that had been transferred, we had a lot of problems. But actually luckily we got everything in time. We always say that we have learnt a., b., c., and at the end when we get to about j., things start working out.
COONEY: Right now the US City of Atlanta in Georgia is hosting the annual conference of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, which has attracted over 5,000 delegates from around the globe. 
This year it's putting part of its focus on Scabies, and Dr Whitfield says it provides a unique opportunity to raise the profile of the disease.
WHITFIELD: There's many, many people interested in scabies but nobody who has really ownership. So maybe 30 to 40 different people interested in scabies have converged on Atlanta.
COONEY: The Fiji trial is being funded by Australia's "National Health and Medical Research Council" for three years.
Dr Margot Whitfield is keen to use the gathering in Atlanta to garner the attention of other aid donors.
WHITFIELD: There's a large number of diseases in the world that are called the neglected tropical diseases, and these have been one of the focuses of Bill Gates Foundation. And they're diseases which usually they just involve a large percentage of the population, usually diseases of the poor, it's usually associated with stigma, and usually associated with something either grossly affecting quality of life or disfiguring. They're usually treatable, it's just a matter of how do you treat it when you've got such a large number of people being affected.

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