The grant was awarded as part of the foundation’s Global Grand Challenges scheme, a family of initiatives aimed at fostering innovation to solve key global health and development problems. Funds will support the project’s expansion and transition to Phase II.
Parker serves as co-Principal Investigator of the project along with Jessica E. Manning, MD, MSc, of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. In 2018, Parker and Manning were selected to receive $100,000 as a Phase 1 award to address Cambodia’s worst ever recorded dengue epidemic. Dengue is a virus commonly spread to people through the bite of an infected mosquito and characterized by symptoms including fever, rash, body aches, nausea, and vomiting.
“We set up a dengue cohort in a peri-urban location within Kampong Speu Province of Cambodia back in 2018. We quickly noticed that a large proportion of people coming to the hospital with febrile illnesses did not have dengue, and never received a final diagnosis. Part I of the Gates grant was meant to identify the causes of febrile illness in this setting and to look for spatial and temporal patterns in these infections,” Parker said.
“By happenstance, this allowed us to have the equipment in place to sequence the first SARS-CoV-2 viruses when the pandemic reached Cambodia. Part II of the grant will extend this work into the dense urban settings of Phnom Penh and to investigate novel approaches to mapping important transmission hotspots for various infectious diseases,” he added.
In Phase II, Parker and Manning will expand their approach to 3,000 patients across three urban hospitals (adult, pediatric, and maternity) to uncover the true prevalence of diseases like multi-drug resistant Salmonella typhi and support antibiotic stewardship. They will also train local lab technicians and use open-source tools to map data, which health officials can then use to track infectious disease outbreaks.