International Journal of Academic Medicine

: 2021  |  Volume : 7  |  Issue : 3  |  Page : 137--140

Fostering East-West and North-South bidirectional collaborations: Experiences from the First International Congress on Ecology and Evolution of Global Communicable Diseases held in Quito and the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador

Nicole K Le1, Sarita Panchang2, Andres Izurieta3, Miguel Reina Ortiz4, Ismael Hoare3, Eknath Naik3, Mauricio Espinel5, Enrique Teran6, Ricardo Izurieta4,  
1 Public Health Scholar Concentration, Morsani College of Medicine, University of South Florida, Louisiana, USA
2 Social Research and Evaluation Center, Louisiana State University, Louisiana, USA
3 Global Communicable Diseases, College of Public Health, University of South Florida, Florida, USA
4 Public Health Scholar Concentration, Morsani College of Medicine, University of South Florida, Louisiana; Global Communicable Diseases, College of Public Health, University of South Florida, Florida, USA
5 Department of Public Health Research, School of Medicine, Universidad Laica Eloy Alfaro de Manabi, Manta, Ecuador
6 Galapagos Sciences Center, School of Medicine, Universidad San Francisco de Quito, Quito, Ecuador

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Ricardo Izurieta
College of Public Health, University of South Florida, Florida; 12301 Bruce B Downs Blvd, MDC56, Tampa, Florida 33612


Communicable disease is a challenge that is widely recognized to be a consequence of globalization. Infectious disease threats such as SARS-CoV-2, Ebola, Zika, malaria, and yellow fever are easily transmissible through mass global processes such as migration and trade. Scholars are increasingly recognizing the value of international cooperation and transdisciplinary research to meet these infectious disease challenges and even to anticipate future challenges. However, international collaboration is not an easy process given the often-uneven relationships between the Global North and South due to histories of resource disparities. In the International Congress on Ecology and Evolution of Global Communicable Diseases held in Quito and Galapagos Islands, Ecuador in 2016, researchers developed a concrete framework for international, interdisciplinary collaboration toward tackling infectious disease challenges. We share the insights from the congress here in hopes of enabling other scientific researchers to engage in similar research partnerships and to forge collective progress toward a more efficient infectious disease research agenda. The following core competencies are addressed in this article: Medical knowledge, Interpersonal and communication skills, and Professionalism.

How to cite this article:
Le NK, Panchang S, Izurieta A, Ortiz MR, Hoare I, Naik E, Espinel M, Teran E, Izurieta R. Fostering East-West and North-South bidirectional collaborations: Experiences from the First International Congress on Ecology and Evolution of Global Communicable Diseases held in Quito and the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador.Int J Acad Med 2021;7:137-140

How to cite this URL:
Le NK, Panchang S, Izurieta A, Ortiz MR, Hoare I, Naik E, Espinel M, Teran E, Izurieta R. Fostering East-West and North-South bidirectional collaborations: Experiences from the First International Congress on Ecology and Evolution of Global Communicable Diseases held in Quito and the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador. Int J Acad Med [serial online] 2021 [cited 2021 Nov 30 ];7:137-140
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Full Text


Global Communicable Diseases (GCDs) can be defined as conditions that are infectious in nature, transmissible among people (with intermediate mechanisms such as arthropods, air, food, or water in most circumstances) and have the ability to be easily transported across international borders or are present in varying geographical regions and therefore, have a global impact on health. These diseases could be grouped according to their mechanism of transmission: vector-borne, water-borne, food-borne, airborne, or soil-transmitted diseases. Often, GCDs disproportionately impact impoverished populations the most and are yet another exacerbating factor contributing to global health disparities. In 2002, the number of healthy life-years lost per capita in the latter was 15 times higher in developing countries than in developed countries.[1] Moreover, although the enormous health improvements occurring in the past three decades, large inequalities in Healthy Live Expectancy, years lived in poor health, and disease burden exist across Socio-Demographic Index quintiles and between developed and developing countries.[2] In addition, according to the WHO in 2018, infectious diseases such as pneumonia, other respiratory illness, malaria, and diarrhea were among the top causes of child mortality worldwide.[3] Based on their associated disability, mortality, and morbidity or status as a neglected tropical disease, major GCDs of concern include malaria, dengue, yellow fever, salmonellosis, water-borne pathogens, HIV/AIDS, resistant microbes, leptospirosis, tuberculosis, and emerging infectious diseases such as Ebola.[4]

Within this context, an international group of researchers convened in Quito and the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador, to hold the First International Congress on Ecology and Evolution of GCD's in March 2016 [Figure 1]. The Congress was conceived in the context of an ongoing and increasing collaboration between the University of South Florida College of Public Health and Universidad San Francisco de Quito. Scientists from India, Japan, Malaysia, the United States, Colombia, Ecuador, Brazil, and Spain joined efforts to analyze the multidisciplinary aspects of ecology and evolution of major GCDs. Our group of researchers spanned collective experience ranging from basic, clinical, epidemiological, and community health, as well as public health and population research. These researchers employed diverse and innovative tools from molecular biology, microbiology, and Geographic Information Systems, as applied to the understanding and improvement of prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and control of GCDs. Researchers engaged in a rich dialogue to discuss and exchange information from their respective fields. One of the overarching thoughts guiding our conversations was the acknowledgment of the critical and dynamic interplay that exists between human, animal, and environmental health: The One Health principle.[5],[6]{Figure 1}


As threats of global climate change are projected to have a major impact on the distribution of several infectious diseases (particularly mosquito-borne illnesses), interdisciplinary collaboration around the world is crucial to prepare countries and communities.[7] Research agendas developed from research meetings are a key means to developing – and sustaining – such collaborations. In particular, conference and research workshops have been proven essential to providing a path forward for health program development, evaluation, sustainability, evidence-based medical practice, and research mapping and risk assessment.[8],[9],[10] The international congress was thus a crucial step not only in furthering an international disease control agenda but also in paving the way toward more effective transnational partnerships.

In contrast to the 20th century trend of research initiatives involving often one-sided agreements between well-resourced developed countries and less-resourced developing countries, North-South research collaboration has become increasingly common in the 21st century and is characterized by mutual agreements, data sharing, and open communication in true partnership form.[11] These and other guidelines are outlined by the Swiss Commission for Research Partnership with Developing Countries which were developed in 2000 and whose updated principles on Transboundary Research Partnerships were taken as reference.

The updated guidelines discuss each of these steps in detail including challenges that may be encountered along the way, potential resolutions for these, as well as seven key questions to keep in mind regarding the collaboration process.[12] The Commission's guidelines are themselves drawn from Gaillard's highly cited article on the history, current status, and recommendations for North-South cooperation.[13] While the process is not an easy one – given histories of exploitation that play a role in global resource disparities seen today,[11],[14] ethical debates about how to carry out research in developing countries, particularly clinical trials, are likely to continue.[15] Principles such as these allow for the potential for more equitable practices in transnational work. This potential is already coming to fruition in many parts of the world, from successful South-South partnerships on mobile health[16] to the Ghanaian-Dutch Partnership geared towards control of malaria, HIV/AIDS, and TB.[11]

 The International Congress on Ecology and Evolution of Global Communicable Diseases

Undoubtedly, the conference was an academic success. As a result of the discussions, thematic research groups were developed in the following areas: Improved Diagnosis, Microbiological Resistance, Innovative Community-based Public Health Interventions, and Innovative Tools for Surveillance and Control. Researchers agreed that, in order to move forward in these four research areas, it is crucial to combine expertise and knowledge to develop integrative research strategies that will allow the generation of critical information to close knowledge gaps. For instance, one project that participating researchers plan to pursue is a community-based water and sanitation evaluation project in Ecuador as a model to study and test hypotheses in these four themes, including: (1) development and testing of novel field-applied bacteriological, microbiological and parasitological diagnostic tools; (2) the study of resistance patterns and microbiological diversity in samples; (3) the use of community-based interventions, including Community-Oriented Primary Care, to develop culturally and linguistically-appropriate public health campaigns; and (4) the use of Geographic Information Systems-based analysis of water quality and contamination, including, but not limited to, altitude analyses.

Researchers have agreed to establish cooperative research initiatives such as this model project to emphasize faculty and study exchange of knowledge and skill transfers across the globe. The aim is to embrace bidirectional East-West, North-South interchange, thus realizing a true Global Research Partnership. In fact, one of the salient points of this conference is that it allowed us to envision the development of East-West and North-South bidirectional collaborations as opposed to North-South or South-South collaborations. This point, although seemingly semantic, is crucial, because we understand that there is a need for true global collaborations so that knowledge can flow from and to all directions as opposed as traditional hegemonic or regionalized forms of research partnerships.


GCDs represent a significant burden for public health systems worldwide. In an increasingly connected and globalized world, scientists and researchers cannot be oblivious to the potential impact that management or mismanagement of GCDs in one region of the world may have in other regions. In the same vein, geographically, remote areas may have much to learn from each other about a single health challenge. As such, the aim of this event was to convene renowned scientists from around the world who are conducting cutting-edge research devoted to the understanding of complex interactions affecting the ecology and evolution of communicable diseases. The range of fields and experiences was as diverse as the countries of origin and research of the participating scholars. Finally, a major purpose for this group of researchers is to be able to continue to meet at least quinquennial to track the progress of our collaborations and to set new goals. Thus, the first Congress on Ecology and Evolution of GCD's offered an unparalleled opportunity for knowledge transfer and networking in order to jointly address our common threats, and we look forward to reporting on our progress in future.


We would like to acknowledge and thank the support of our home research institutions: Universita de Valencia, Valencia, Spain; FEVALE, Nova Hamburgo, Brazil; Universidad San Francisco de Quito, Quito, Ecuador; University of South Florida, Tampa, Florida, USA; Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, Arizona; University of Indiana, Indiana, USA; University of Sains Malaysia, Malaysia; University of Gifu, Gifu, Japan. The International Research Group on Ecology and Evolution of GCDs will continue to work to successfully complete the agreed research collaborations and will prepare for the organization of the Second International Congress on Ecology and Evolution of GCD's to be held in Summer 2021.

Financial support and sponsorship


Conflicts of interest

Dr. Izurieta and Dr. Reina are both members of the IJAM Editorial Board.

Ethical conduct of research

Review by Ethics Committee is not required for the publication of an experience-based, non-clinical report. This article constitutes a realiable description of the procedures and achievements during the First International Congress on Ecology and Evolution of Global Communicable Diseases held in Quito and the Galapagos Islands, Ecuador 2016, extra information is available at: -premier-conference-on-evolution- of-communicable-diseases


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