As Agriculture Intensifies To Promote Food Security, Prevention Research For Buruli Ulcer Also Must Intensify

“Buruli ulcer could spread as agriculture intensifies in Africa, making prevention research vital,” Rousseau Djouaka, a researcher at the Benin branch of the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture (IITA), argues in this SciDev.Net opinion piece. “The intensification of lowland agriculture has been linked with the increased incidence of human diseases such as malaria, schistosomiasis and Buruli ulcer (BU),” he writes, noting, “Of these, BU remains the least well documented and most neglected in the wet agro-ecosystems of west and central Africa.” He provides statistics regarding infection rates in Africa and notes, “People affected by the skin infection, caused by the bacterium Mycobacterium ulcerans, develop large ulcers which often result in scarring, deformities, amputations, and disabilities, especially when the diagnosis is delayed.”

“If identified early enough, BU patients can be treated successfully. But one of the missing pieces in our understanding of the disease is how people are exposed to the bacterium — this understanding is vital for taking steps to prevent the infection,” Djouaka continues. He highlights the association between BU transmission and changes in land use, discusses the high cost of treatment and funding shortages for combating the disease, and concludes, “Steps are being taken in the right direction,” but “a lack of resources is limiting how fast these initiatives can be implemented. At a time when the intensification of agriculture is promoted for food security, we also need to intensify research into preventing BU” (5/11).