The new project, known as the laboratory for molecular surveillance of tropical diseases, will be led by Steven R. Meshnick, M.D., Ph.D., UNC an epidemiology professor in the School of Public Health and an expert on molecular epidemiology and infectious diseases.
The lab will work with the research and evaluation company ORC-Macro, the Institute of Tropical Medicine in Antwerp, Belgium, and the Kinshasa School of Public Health in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Together, the group will measure the distribution of malaria, drug-resistant malaria, African sleeping sickness and other infectious diseases in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
"Infectious diseases remain the leading cause of death and disability in developing countries," Meshnick said.
"Current maps and prevalence data on tropical diseases are usually estimates based on samples that paint a potentially inaccurate picture. We want to help international and national health organizations get better data and maps for tropical diseases from representative population-based surveys.
"Better information will help guide efforts to control tropical diseases, and also will help in evaluating the effectiveness of efforts to control their spread," he added.
Meshnick said that he hoped the new lab's disease surveillance approach would become a model for similar surveillance programs in other developing countries.
"This work will help the 'poorest of the poor,' who bear the brunt of the burden of tropical diseases," Meshnick said.
The team's initial work will involve analysing 9,000 dried blood spots collected in 2007 for tracking HIV infection.