Following a Fascination with Arboviruses from Sudan to Baltimore

Posted 8 November 2017

For some people outside of the United States, their desire to visit America is aroused by an encounter with a beloved movie, book or pop singer. It was different for Sudan’s Ayman Ahmed. For him, it was all about arboviruses. More specifically, it was his desire to join the American Committee on Arthropod-Borne Viruses and sit in on presentations by committee members at TropMed17.
Ahmed, who is studying at the Institute of Endemic Diseases at the University of Khartoum, initially was focused on malaria vectors in Sudan, and he’s still doing some research on insecticide resistance in mosquitoes. But he said a field study to eastern Sudan several years ago to investigate an outbreak of dengue drew his interest to arboviruses, and that’s where he wants to stake his claim as a scientist.  
Last year he was awarded a research fellowship with the Wellcome Trust that included a limited amount of funds for travel.
“I convinced them to let me come to Baltimore for the ASTMH annual meeting because I felt it could have a huge impact on my career,” Ahmed said. “From the first day here, I knew it was worth it. And I will do whatever it takes to come back and present my work next year in New Orleans (site of TropMed18).”
Among his interests are dengue, which recently appeared for the first time, he said, in western Sudan. Ahmed said the disease might have been imported from UN forces who have been serving as peacekeepers in war-torn Darfur, or from laborers from dengue-endemic countries who have come to work in gold mines in the region.
“Maybe it’s because the local population there is dengue-na├»ve, but one of the interesting things about the outbreak is that many of the cases are presenting with hemorrhagic fever,” he said.
Ahmed said Sudanese also are at risk of yellow fever, Rift Valley fever and chikungunya, along with several other mosquito-borne, tick-borne and fly-borne diseases.
“Whatever is vector borne, you name it and it’s probably there,” he said. “Myself, I’ve had malaria several times, and I’ve had leishmaniasis and dengue.”
Ahmed would like to spend more time probing outbreaks of Rift Valley fever, not only for its danger to humans but also because even low levels of infection in cattle can cause miscarriage. That’s a problem, he said, because livestock exports from Sudan to the Middle East are an important source of income for many people in Sudan.
“This is why I want to be working in arboviruses,” he said. “Not just because it’s an interesting career, but also because I can work to establish public health programs that can help control these diseases.”