March 2021 marked the beginning of the active epidemiological surveillance activities in Cotonou, Allada and Natitingou, the three project sites in Benin. The activities, which will take place in three hospitals and six rural front-line health facilities, aim to detect COVID-19 cases and contacts, as well as assess risk factors for COVID-19 infection in healthcare workers and establish a COVID-19 hospital information system in order to detect increasing demands. All these elements will help understand the extent and the dynamics of the COVID-19 pandemic in Benin, and consequently strengthen the health systems response.
Launch of STREESCO activities in Benin
STREESCO team preparing field activities in Allada (Benin)
Getting started in Diébougou, Burkina Faso
Preparatory tasks are being carried out prior to the onset of the activities in the region of Diébougou, Burkina Faso. Databases on the demand of care, the number of acute respiratory illnesses and other pathologies useful for the analysis have been established at the health centers. These data have been produced from 2013 and will allow to carry out a preliminary surveillance.
STREESCO consortium meeting
A STREESCO consortium meeting took place the 24th September 2021. For the occasion, ISGlobal researchers Dr Raquel González and Antía Figueroa were welcomed at the IRD facilities in Paris (France) by Dr Gilles Cottrell and Dr Emmanuel Bonnet, while other members attended online due to travel restrictions derived from COVID-19 pandemic. The meeting was an excellent opportunity for all the consortium members to be updated in the progress and achievements of the project as well as to exchange insights.
Raquel González (ISGlobal), Antía Figueroa (ISGlobal), Gilles Cottrell (IRD) and Emmanuel Bonnet (IRD) in the IRD facilities, where the consortium meeting took place.
STREESCO at the 10th EDCTP forum
The Tenth EDCTP Forum was held as a virtual meeting from the Joaquim Chissano International Conference Centre in Maputo from 17-21th October 2021. STREESCO’s co-investigator Dr Gilles Cottrell presented on Wednesday 20th the project to the audience on the topic “Innovation and opportunities in capacity strengthening: lessons from research in pandemics”.
The EDCTP forum is a biennial event that provides an international platform for the presentation and discussion of frontier research to address the burden of poverty-related infectious diseases in sub-Saharan Africa, and also capacity development and networking activities to support these goals.
The EDCTP Forum attracts a diverse audience, including representatives from research institutions and universities, the larger scientific community, health care providers, governments, regional bodies, regulators, civil society and public and private research and development partners.
ISGlobal visit to IRCB
Project member Antía Figueroa from ISGlobal (Spain) visited the Institut de Recherche Clinique du Bénin (IRCB) from the 22nd until the 26th November 2021. This constituted an excellent opportunity to visit the project sites and to exchange impressions with other project members from the IRCB and the Institut de Recherche pour le Dévéloppement onsite.
ISGlobal is the networking and dissemination work package responsible, lead by Dr Raquel González. The networking and dissemination activities aim to strengthen existing collaboration and to foster new ones among European and African partners and institutions.
Meeting Aurore Atchadé, STREESCO project manager
Aurore Mèdomin ATCHADE obtained her Doctor of Medicine degree in 2019 from the University of Parakou (Benin). From 2015 to 2019, she participated in research studies on maternal and child malaria and urogenital bilharzia and she worked as a substitute doctor in private clinics in Benin (Parakou, Abomey-Calavi).
-What is your role at STREESCO?
I am responsible of coordinating all the activities of the STREESCO project in Benin. Indeed, before the start of the project, I was in charge of obtaining the administrative and ethical authorizations, and during the project implementation, I ensure the respect of good practices in clinical research at each stage, the supervision and the follow-up of the good progress of the collection work on the three sites of the study and the readjustment of the study procedures to be in line with governmental decisions in the context of the response to COVID-19 in Benin.
-When did you know you wanted to work as a health researcher?
Health research has become a passion for me since I was a student. This passion was supported by my participation in research work, especially on malaria and urogenital bilharzia. My final medical thesis subject also supported this choice. It focused on the contribution of TransFontanellar Ultrasound in the management of premature babies in Parakou in 2019. At the end of this study, we concluded that the systematically performed TransFontanellar Ultrasound is essential for the screening of cerebral complications related to prematurity, the follow-up and the prognostic evaluation of premature babies. The approaches and methods used to overcome this subject have led me to understand the place of the researcher in understanding and solving many persistent and emerging health problems.
-Now that we talk about emerging health issues, such as COVID-19, how do you see the end of COVID-19 in developing countries?
The COVID-19 pandemic costs everyday thousands of lives and billions of dollars. In developing countries, this pandemic is having a heavy impact on health systems, the economy and development. Efforts should be done with a long-term perspective, focused on economic and health resilience. Health care systems are underdeveloped in these countries at all levels, so investments in health care should therefore be a priority and allow the establishment of reliable diagnostic systems.
– In your opinion, what are the most important challenges that countries like Benin face in controlling the COVID-19 epidemic?
The challenges that I would mention include making health care accessible to all, consolidating epidemiological surveillance systems, equipping health centers and laboratories to meet the screening needs of populations and take charge of patients, to set up a permanent monitoring system in view of the endemic nature of SARS-CoV-2 infection, and finally, to mitigate the economic and social effects of the crisis.
-Which do you think that are the strengths that countries like Benin are working on in order to control the COVID-19 epidemic?
I would note several: firstly, the establishment at the national level of the National Council for the Fight against HIV / AIDS, Tuberculosis, Malaria, Hepatitis, Sexually Transmitted Infections and Epidemics; followed by the requisition and equipment of several health centers in several municipalities for the treatment only of suspected or confirmed cases of COVID-19. The creation of integrated epidemic care centers in each department and the strengthening of medical personnel throughout the Beninese territory with the recruitment of more than 1,600 contractual health workers and more than 500 COVID-19 volunteers are also strong points. Finally, I would mention the establishment of an epidemic management committee at a municipality level to develop a local response and to supervise the application of national guidelines.
-How do you think the STREESCO project will help improve epidemic control in developing countries?
Since the start of activities in March 2021, the STREESCO project has had a strong impact on the response in place, and we have also supported the efforts of the Ministry of Health on three strategic sites in Benin. This project will strengthen the surveillance system put in place and control the evolving dynamics of the COVID-19 pandemic. Also, from the data collected, we will be able to make constructive recommendations to the Beninese Ministry of Health and inform policies in decision-making for a better response to COVID-19.
-What did you learn while working at STREESCO?
Coordinating the activities of the STREESCO project allowed me to understand better the challenges in terms of Integrated Disease Surveillance and Response to epidemics. I learned to be the contact between the project field coordinators and the investigators, to solve the difficulties encountered by the agents in the field, to orient and adapt each time the project directives to the ministerial decisions without losing sight of the objectives. I have also developed various skills, particularly in Clinical Research, COVID-19 case management in Benin, and above all a great ability to work in a team.
Aurore Mèdomin ATCHADE
Meeting Daleb Abdoulaye Alfa, STREESCO health anthropologist
Abdoulaye Alfa holds a postgraduate degree in Anthropology of Health. He has conducted several anthropological research projects on vector control with the IRD and has worked with the Agency of Preventive Medicine (AMP) and WHO. He is a member of the West African Anthropology Network on Emerging Epidemics since 2015. Currently, Daleb Abdoulaye Alfa is preparing a thesis in medical anthropology on the entangled logic of actors around the phase III trial of a new treated mosquito net (LN) at Tori-Bossito, in Benin.
– What is your role in STREESCO?
I am responsible for the STREESCO anthropological study
– What is the aim of the anthropological study in STREESCO?
The purpose of this study is to describe and analyze the public health measures affecting the population and health professionals involved in the response to the pandemic.
– How do you think this study will help to strengthen the response to the COVID-19 pandemic in Benin and other least developed countries?
STREESCO will provide a better understanding of the dynamics of the epidemic in Benin. This project has the advantage of being carried out in the midst of an epidemic, adapting to different situations. The lessons learned will make it possible to make recommendations to the Beninese health authorities but also to other developing countries with similar contexts.
– What are, in your opinion, the most important challenges that countries like Benin must confront in order to control COVID-19?
I would mention several: raising awareness to comply with barrier measures, raising awareness of the benefits and risks of vaccination, furnishing the centers involved in epidemics management, as well as working on the acceptability of the population of corpse management by the medical profession.
– What are, in your opinion, the strengths that countries like Benin have that will be useful to work towards the end of COVID-19?
In terms of epidemic control, Benin has been proven by the COVID 19 epidemic. The lessons learned will enable it to better equip itself in order to be stronger.
Daleb Abdoulaye Alfa
STREESCO dissemination meetings
Dissemination of results is of utmost importance to guarantee the success of a project. The dissemination of the STREESCO project preliminary results took place from 3rd to 10th February 2022 in study sites of Natitingou, Allada and Cotonou (Benin) to study collaborators and local authorities.
Despite these being preliminary results, the attendees showed a great interest and highlighted the relevance of the project findings. Indeed, further results will be shared once the project finishes, which will guide authorities in the pandemic management as well as strengthen preparedness of health systems for this and future epidemics.