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Research

Dr. Andrew Kane inspects juvenile tilapia for growth and disease at the FISH Ministries farm adjacent to the Christianville School in Gressier, Haiti.

Aquaculture

Andrew Kane, Ph.D., an associate professor of environmental and global health and director of the UF Aquatic Pathobiology Laboratories, is studying aquaculture-based protein production to help feed school children in Haiti. The lack of adequate food for many people and communities in Haiti also means there is little available feed to support aquaculture.

To address this issue, Kane is working to use regional and sustainable ingredients to formulate novel fish feeds that are relatively high in protein, mostly digestible and use foodstuffs that do not take protein away from people. Experimental feeding trials are being conducted at the Aquatic Pathobiology Laboratories in Gainesville with the assistance of Pascale St. Martin, a UF student and USAID WINNER scholarship recipient from Haiti. Results from these controlled experiments will provide the foundation for field feed trials in Haiti with the support of UF collaborators Edsel Redden, M.S., associate for environmental and global health international development in the department of environmental and global health, Bill Pine, Ph.D., an associate professor in the department of wildlife ecology and conservation and the fisheries and aquatic sciences program, and Adegbola Adesogan, Ph.D., a professor of animal sciences.

Cholera

During the recent cholera epidemics in Haiti that began October 21, 2010, Afsar Ali, Ph.D., a research associate professor in the department of environmental and global health, successfully demonstrated that the circulating strains of V. cholerae were highly clonal. Although his study confirmed the clonal nature of V. cholerae in the beginning of the epidemic, he predicted that the clonal nature of these strains may cause evolutionary diversity as they passed through Haitian populations and, presumably, aquatic reservoirs.

Ali and J. Glenn Morris, M.D., M.P.H., T.M., the director of UF’s Emerging Pathogens Institute, are currently conducting a study to understand the transmission dynamics of cholera in Haiti. Led by Morris, researchers will identify household index cases, asymptomatic carriers of V. cholerae in the same household and environmental reservoirs for V. cholerae, track evolutionary changes in the cholera bacteria, and refine the existing models of disease transmission. The study is funded by the National Institutes of Health and the United States Department of Defense.

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Malaria

Bernard Okech, Ph.D., a research associate professor in the department of environmental and global health, is collaborating with the Haiti Ministry of Health on malaria transmission studies focusing on drug resistance and other aspects that might be useful in malaria elimination prospecting. Okech’s research is based at two clinics, one in Haiti’s capital of Port-au-Prince and the other in Leogane, 30 miles west of Port-au-Prince. Okech is also studying mosquitoes in Haiti, especially the breeding habitats of malaria mosquitoes around homes where patients with malaria live, to determine the factors driving malaria transmission. In addition, he studies dengue mosquito vector breeding habitats and biting activity in Gressier, Haiti at the University of Florida Public Health Research Laboratory. Okech has established extensive connections with public health officials in Haiti including the National Public Health Laboratory, PAHO-Haiti and the Haiti National Malaria Control Division of the Ministry of Health.

Doctoral candidate Michael von Fricken is working with Okech to conduct malaria surveillance in the Ouest and Sud-Est departments of Haiti to provide policymakers with valuable information on malaria previous exposure rates, the prevalence of protective genetic factors, and transmission dynamics by region. Currently, the malaria research team is enrolling participants from clinics and schools in Port-au-Prince, Gressier, Leogane and Jacmel, with each site representing a variety of environmental and demographic characteristics.

Non-communicable diseases

Community health workers head out into the field.

Community health workers head out into the field.

Department of epidemiology faculty members Linda Cottler, Ph.D., M.P.H., Krishna Vaddiparti, Ph.D., M.P.E., M.S.W., and Catherine Striley, Ph.D., M.S.W., M.P.E., in collaboration with Vince DeGennaro, M.D., M.P.H., of the College of Medicine, have launched the Haiti Health Study to determine the burden of non-communicable diseases. The study is being implemented separately in urban and rural areas using identical protocols to estimate the prevalence of non-communicable diseases such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, panic attacks and substance use disorders along with cardiovascular risk factors such as hypertension, diabetes, hyperlipidemia and chronic renal insufficiency. The study explores the associated risk factors of non-communicable diseases, including social determinants of health. Vaddiparti and Striley have identified local community health workers and trained them in study protocol, household enumeration, study assessments, interviewing, responsible conduct of research and human subjects protection. CHWs also received training in taking physical measurements and performing blood tests using finger sticks for hemoglobin A1C, cholesterol and serum creatinine. Read more

Zika

Bernard Okech, Ph.D., a research associate professor in the department of environmental and global health, along with co-investigators John Lednicky, Ph.D., an associate professor in the department, and J. Glenn Morris, M.D., M.P.H., the director of UF’s Emerging Pathogens Institute, leads a study of the entomological aspects of Zika virus transmission in Haiti.

The researchers are analyzing mosquito samples collected in field sites in Haiti to gain an initial understanding of Zika transmission patterns in an area with epidemic, and potentially endemic, disease. The information obtained will help determine mosquito populations involved in Zika virus transmission in Haiti and potentially in the U.S. There are still many critical questions that remain unanswered about which mosquito vectors are able to transmit Zika, and the relative importance of these vectors in disease transmission in areas such as Haiti. The study is supported by funding from the United States Department of Agriculture’s National Institute of Food and Agriculture.