$1.3 million to eliminate parasitic worms

13 December 2019

Researchers from ANU have been awarded $1.3 million by the National Health and Medical Research Council e-Asia Joint Research Program. The team will work toward eliminating parasitic worms and associated liver cancer in communities of the Lower Mekong Basin.

Poverty, poor sanitation and hygiene and dietary practises are closely linked to the prevalence of these infections, and parasitic worms currently infect more people in the Lower Mekong Basin than the population of Australia. As such this project represents an immense opportunity to positively impact the lives of millions of people.

Professor Darren Gray, from the Research School of Population Health, is leading the international team of experts who hope to eliminate parasitic worms through a comprehensive multi-component control program that brings together successful interventions pioneered by this team. This elimination program will be trialled in Thailand, Cambodia and Laos and if successful will serve as the model for elimination of all parasitic worm infections in the Asia-Pacific and globally.    

"The number of people affected by parasitic worms is simply astounding," said Professor Gray.

"The impact of these parasites goes far beyond a sore stomach and diarrhoea. People can suffer from anaemia, enlarged liver and spleen, liver fibrosis, stunted growth, liver cancer and ultimately death. Bile duct cancer is common in older populations and the Lower Mekong has the world's highest rates of this liver cancer. Children are also particularly vulnerable as they can become malnourished and even fail to achieve their cognitive potential, which in turn perpetuates the cycle of poverty."

Researchers will also design a scaling-up protocol and guidelines based on geospatial and mathematical modelling that can be used by governments of the region to implement this approach as a national program for control and elimination.

"Parasitic worms aren't unique to this tropical area. Vulnerable communities in Australia are also impacted by intestinal worms, and our research program could be applied to these as well. These are diseases of poverty and have no place in the modern world, and our project is another step in the right direction in eliminating them," said Professor Gray.