Xiao-Nong Zhou is Editor-in-Chief of Infectious Diseases of Poverty, a journal launched in 2012 to address the essential public health questions relating to infectious diseases in resource limited settings, from the biology of pathogens and vectors to treatment and case management. Identifying critical research gaps that delay progress in public health interventions is essential to progress in this field and forms a key objective of the journal. Here Zhou discusses how his work with the World Health Organization led to the launch of the journal, and how research into parasitic diseases has evolved during his career.
What got you first interested in research into parasitic diseases?
There are two reasons I’m working on parasitic disease. The first is because I came from a town that was an endemic area for schistosomiosis, which was a very serious problem at that time. The second is because once I studied parasitic disease as a subject, I became interested in doing some research work. I started this work in the beginning of the 1980s, and so have already studied this subject for more than 30 years.
My first studies were on the ecology of the snail that transmits Schistosoma japonicum. My studies continued to look at the population genetics and the geographic distribution of this snail. This helped me develop my knowledge and the capacity to engage in research work at a higher level. After I got my PhD degree, I came back to China from the University of Copenhagen in Denmark, and I continued my work on the epidemiology of schistosomiosis transmission. My experience of a combination of disciplines, including ecology, population genetics and epidemiology, has helped me further my current work.
How has the field of parasitic disease research changed in China during the course of your career, and how do you think future efforts should proceed?
With the economic development in China and the national control program for parasitic disease strengthening, the prevalence rate of the diseases has decreased significantly. These efforts have also enabled us to ask more penetrating research questions to take the research work further. For example, now we’re coming to the elimination stage of malaria. We need to understand the requirements of the elimination program and we need good techniques to identify local cases or imported cases. At the same time, for the elimination of schistosomiosis, we need to develop more sensitive diagnostic kits. All of these scientific questions need to be answered at different stages of the national control program.
With my involvement in the national control program, I work with local people to identify research gaps or research questions and take them back to the laboratory. As the Chairman of the National Committee for Parasitic Disease, my job is really to identify those gaps and help these communities to do more work to combat parasitic disease.
The National Institute of Parasitic Diseases, of which you are currently Director, contributes to the national control program. How does this translation of research findings occur?
The institute is quite unique because we’re not only working on research, but we are also involved with the national control program’s design and monitoring. We translate research findings into the national control program very quickly compared with other research institutes. For example, we have developed more sensitive diagnostic kits and protocols for surveillance, and translated this information to provide a scientific basis for the Ministry of Health. We formulate the national control program and protocols to present to the Ministry of Health, and so help improve the program.
How did the journal Infectious Disease of Poverty come about, and what are its aims?
Since I’ve worked in a developing country – in China – for a long time, I have a lot of experience of how difficult it can be to work in research and publish my results. As one of the members of the World Health Organization (WHO) Scientific Research Committee on neglected tropical disease, I always discuss with my colleagues at an international level about how to translate research findings quickly into the control program. With staff at the WHO, I was also involved in writing a global report on research in infectious diseases of poverty. During the development of this global report, we identified ten gaps that were put forward as research priorities for the future for infectious diseases of poverty.
We discussed that we needed to develop a new journal on infectious diseases of poverty to promote this research at the top level. Several of my co-authors of this global report were selected to be Editorial Board members for the journal, Infectious Diseases of Poverty. They are the world experts with a great deal of experience working in infectious diseases of poverty. They know the research gaps and the research priorities in infectious disease. They are also from different regions of the world; this kind of global distribution can help us to really identify different issues in the world and better contribute to the global program for disease control and elimination.
We hope the journal can help people from developing countries to more easily publish their research results and translate their results into the control program. This is our vision for the journal. We’ve tried to maintain the aim of the journal to publish multidisciplinary approaches, as well as using those approaches to find results that can be easily applied in local settings, particularly in developing countries.
How important in open access in this area of research?
Open access is very useful for people from developing countries because they are really very frustrated when trying to find original papers in their research area. If all those journals’ original papers needed to be paid for by the people from developing countries, they really cannot access those papers. For example, when I was doing my PhD, I always had difficulty finding original papers. So from my own experience, I really value open access journals, so that research can be more easily accessible to people from developing countries, help them improve their research, and also apply their research to national control programs.
More about the Editor(s)
Xiao-Nong Zhou is Director of the National Institute of Parasitic Diseases at the Chinese Center for Diseases Control and Prevention, China. He has over 30 years’ experience in research into parasitic diseases and their control, and is a leading expert on the snail species, Oncomelania hupensis, which plays hosts to schistosomiasis. Zhou obtained his PhD at the Danish Bilharziasis Laboratory at Copenhagen University, Denmark. On his return to China Zhou established a career in infectious disease research and in 2001 was appointed Deputy Director of the National Institute of Parasitic Diseases – a position he held until 2010 when he was appointed Director. He is currently Chair of the National Expert Advisory Committee on schistosomiasis and other parasitic diseases in China’s Ministry of Health, and has collaborated with the World Health Organization, contributing to ‘The Global Report on Research for Infectious Diseases of Poverty’.