The Gorgas tradition continues
PANAMA. Scientists at Panama’s Gorgas Memorial Institute, one of the most important centers for the study of tropical diseases in Centr...
PANAMA. Scientists at Panama’s Gorgas Memorial Institute, one of the most important centers for the study of tropical diseases in Central America, are studying ways to stop the spread of the deadly hemorrhagic dengue and find innovative ways to deliver blood samples without the need of test tubes or refrigeration.
The Institute, is the epidemiological center for Central America and the referral laboratory, to which all the others in Panama send blood specimens to be tested for dengue.
Dengue is becoming a serious problem in urban and rural areas as the mosquito aedes egypti conquers new territories aided by people’s ignorance, inadvertently creating breeding grounds for the insect.
The research would have pleased Dr William Gorgas, who gained international recognition when he battled malaria, yellow fever and ignorance, and saved thousands of lives during the building of the Canal.
The Gorgas Institute director, Dr Nestor Sosa said that there are four types of dengue in Panama; the worst being the being hemorrhagic dengue, which can be fatal.
“There is no vaccine for dengue, but in places like Thailand scientists are developing one which will be tested here to measure its efficacy.”
Dr Sosa said that another action that the Gorgas is taking against the dengue is to genetically manipulate male mosquitoes to sterilize them, so the female, which is the one that bites, would not produce any eggs and thus slow down the spread of the disease.
Tropical diseases such as malaria, Chagas disease, Leishmaniasis and parasitic ailments are currently being studied at the Gorgas. on Ave. Justo Arosemena in a building originally intended to be the University of Panama Medical School.
They are finding ways to diagnose the illnesses earlier and create effective and less painful treatments.
Recently, Gorgas’ scientists discovered a species of malaria transmitting mosquitoes in Darien. The new menace the anopheles darlingi, lives in South America and this is the first time that it has been found in Panamaand is a breed that infects people more efficiently.
Panama is also at the forefront in the studies of the Hanta virus, which was discovered y the institute.It has been found in the areas of Azuero, Chepo and Panama East. When cases are detected personnel are sent to the area to trap rodents to determine if they are carrying the virus.
The entomology department tests insecticides on mosquitoes, bedbugs and other insects that transmit diseases to find the most effective and detect the ones that have become resistant and alert the Health Ministry.
The Gorgas is more than an institution that specializes in the study of tropical diseases, it is also has the Central American referral laboratory for HIV, which supervises all the testing centers for HIV/AIDS in the region. It tracks how the virus has been mutating over the years after triple therapy was introduced, and its resistance to conventional treatment.
“We are also studying the HIV virus in our genetic labs and how is behaving in Panama. The different strains, population at risk and geographical areas most affected by the illness,” said Sosa.
The institute has become a National Influenza Center and studies all the flu viruses which currently found in the country including the H1N1 and sends the strains to the Center for Diseases Control in Atlanta, for more sophisticated tests.
Sosa said that another project currently in place is the study of the papiloma virus, that causes cervical cancer, to determine which type of the virus, is more common in Panama so the Health Ministry can buy the appropriate vaccine.
Perhaps one of the most innovative projects is the collection and analysis of blood samples using genetic technology to test for pregnancy, full blood exams and HIV. This technique is particularly useful when doctors are working in rural areas where it is difficult to carry test tubes or where samples cannot be frozen.
Director Sosa said that after 81 years, the next step for the Gorgas is to become a National Public Health Institute, like the ones that exists in other countries to generate knowledge and improve the general health of the population.
The Gorgas will celebrate its anniversary on August 20, with a two days free scientific symposium with international guest speakers. Aug 15 marks the anniversary of the first official transit of the Canal, for which Dr Gorgas had done so much.