MAE Scholar, Shaun Coutts, on surveillance and monitoring for lymphatic filariasis in Samoa

23 July 2019

Shaun Coutts is a second year Master of Philosophy in Applied Epidemiology (MAE) scholar at the Australian National University, with a joint field placement between the Burnet Institute and the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services.

In June 2019 Shaun travelled to Samoa as team leader for a mosquito survey, part of the Surveillance and Monitoring to Eliminate Lymphatic Filariasis and Scabies from Samoa study (SaMELFS Samoa).

Shaun’s MAE supervisor, ANU’s Associate Professor Colleen Lau, is a principal investigator on the study. “The primary aims of the mosquito survey are to investigate associations between the presence of filarial parasites in mosquitoes and in humans at the village level, and to assess the usefulness of this kind of monitoring (known as molecular xenomonitoring) as an early and sensitive indicator of lymphatic filariasis transmission in the community,” said Dr. Lau.

Shaun worked alongside Australian entomologists and Samoa Red Cross workers to trap, identify, count and preserve mosquitoes in villages across Samoa, which were then tested for the presence of the filarial parasite that causes lymphatic filariasis - Wuchereria bancrofti.

“My involvement with the study in Samoa provided a fantastic opportunity to conduct operational research in the field. Pacific Island nations have made great strides toward eliminating lymphatic filariasis as a public health problem – the outcomes of SaMELFS Samoa study can make a real difference to surveillance and elimination in Samoa and beyond,” he said.

MAE scholars have had a strong involvement with the SaMELFS Samoa study; Brady McPherson (Australian Defence Force Malaria and Infectious Disease Institute) is a co-investigator and Stephen Harfield (South Australian Medical Research Institute) worked as a team leader in-country earlier this year.  In 2018, Kelley Meder and Gabriela Willis assisted with the human survey, and Julia Maguire with the mosquito survey.  MAE alumni Sarah Sheridan and Therese Kearns have also been closely involved as project leaders.

SaMELFS Samoa is funded by the Task Force for Global Health (USA).