Global Health Seed Fund Projects

Nepal: understanding sources of water pollution

Women wash fresh produce in a river in Nepal.

In low- and middle-income countries (LMIC), lakes and rivers used as sources of drinking water are often heavily contaminated by human and animal fecal pollution. This pollution results in waterborne infections, mainly in children, which can range in severity from mild to life-threatening. This project, led by Abhilasha Shrestha, PhD, research assistant professor of environmental and occupational health sciences, aims to build understanding of the diversity of microbes in those waters to better identify and control the sources of fecal contamination.

While this work is easily accomplished in molecular laboratories in high income countries, few labs in LMIC have high tech equipment required to amplify microbial DNA or systems for sequencing DNA. Currently, water samples must be frozen during transport to molecular labs in other countries in order to preserve the microbial DNA. Public health-related environmental microbiology in LMIC could advance significantly if simple methods were available to preserve microbial DNA without a need to keep it frozen in transit to a molecular lab.

This project will evaluate a novel method for preserving DNA of waterborne microbes from polluted waters in LMIC using a novel method that does not require refrigeration, transporting the samples to our laboratory at UIC and subsequently analyzing bacterial DNA in the samples. This method should be useful in waterborne outbreak investigations and in identifying sources of fecal pollution in surface waters.

Bangladesh: diet and youth intestinal microbiome

Children play in a rural street in Bangladesh.

Stunting affects nearly 40 percent of children ages 5 years and younger in low and middle income countries (LMICs), increasing risk of early childhood mortality, morbidity and impaired cognitive development, with long term consequences for health and human capital.

The characteristic maturation of the intestinal microbiome over the first two years of life supports healthy growth and development. The extent to which the intestinal microbiome contributes to stunting and inhibits response to nutritional interventions is unknown.

In a pilot study, Rebecca Campbell, PhD, assistant professor of epidemiology and biostatistics, is sequencing microbial DNA in banked stool samples from children in a randomized controlled trial of food supplementation in Bangladesh to investigate microbiota diversity and maturity in relation to treatment group and stunting status.

Recently completed microbial sequencing is being incorporated into analyses of the intestinal microbiota in relation to supplementation and growth. Findings will be submitted for publication and insights will inform a future grant to link microbiota maturation and food supplementation with early childhood growth and development in a large study sample.

India: HIV interventions for low literacy groups

A woman in India talks on her phone while walking down a street.

My Personal Health Guide is designed to promote HIV medication adherence and retention in care in young African American men who have sex with men. However, it has many features that can be translated to a general audience for low and middle-income countries.

This project, guided by Mark Dworkin, MD, professor of epidemiology and biostatistics, will begin the process of making it more generalizable to populations outside the United States. Translation will involve modification so that it may be used on a tablet or computer in addition to a mobile phone and language translation of spoken health educational dialogue. In-depth interviews with low-literacy patients will epxlore acceptability and feasibility of the translated app. The work is being done in collaboration with SHARE-India.

South Africa: undiagnosed HIV cases and COVID

Nurses fill a hospital room with COVID patients present.

It is plausible that the COVID-19 pandemic has caused people to markedly change their sexual and drug use-related risk behaviors. Changes initiated with an intention of reducing risk of COVID-19 infection (such as reduction in number of sex partners or isolated drug use) could have an impact not only on risk of contracting and/or spreading COVID-19, but also on risk of HIV infection and/or transmission.

Led by Leslie Williams, PhD, assistant professor of community health sciences, this application will add COVID-19 antibody testing to an SPH-funded randomized trial of two versions of a social network-based HIV case-finding intervention that will be conducted in collaboration with colleagues at Human Sciences Research Council in the KwaZulu-Natal province of South Africa. COVID-19 antibody testing among our social network-based sample will also allow us to contribute to understanding of how COVID-19 moves through HIV risk networks and social networks and shed light on COVID-19 epidemiology in this understudied, resource-limited rural area.