In this lecture, DIAS-chair Christine Stabell Benn will be presenting a 41-year-old field station – “Bandim Health Project“ in Guinea-Bissau, West Africa – that now becomes an SDU field station.
In a unique Danish-Guinean collaboration, researchers have built a so-called “Health and Demographic Surveillance System”, where they follow a population of ~200,000 with regular home visits and track their visits to the health center and hospital – just like we in Denmark follow all citizens via their CPR number. This is a perfect platform for studying how to improve health. The main focus has been on child health, and specifically on health interventions like vaccines and vitamin A supplementation – but the field station has also been the basis for studies of HIV, tuberculosis, malaria and much more – resulting in a total of >1000 publications.
A hallmark of Bandim Health Project has been the pursuit of contradictory observations: real-life experiences which do not fit the common assumptions. This approach has led to several new observations, which challenge current paradigms in medicine.
Numerous Danish master and PhD students have spent 1-2 or more years in Guinea-Bissau, and contributed to the research and research capacity building taking place there.
Christine Stabell Benn will give a brief review of the history of Bandim Health Project, a short summary of the key research findings (including some of the more controversial ones!) and last but not least, she will use the opportunity to brain storm with the audience: can the field station be useful for other researchers from other disciplines, can it form the basis for SDU’s real-life hands-on work with the SDGs?
About Christine Stabell Benn
Christine Stabell Benn is a medical doctor (1996), PhD (2003) and Doctor of Medical Science (2011) from University of Copenhagen. She has worked at the Bandim Health Project in Guinea-Bissau (BHP, www.bandim.org) since 1993, starting as a medical student. She has spent postdoc time at the Danish National Hospital, Department for Infectious Diseases and at Stanford University.
In 2010 Dr. Benn received an ERC Starting Grant. In 2012, Dr. Benn was selected by the Danish National Research Foundation to establish and lead a Center of Excellence, the “Research Center for Vitamins and Vaccines. Since 2013, Dr. Benn is also Professor in Global Health at University of Southern Denmark.
Dr. Benn’s research aims to document that vaccines and vitamins affect the immune system in a much more general way than previously thought. Childhood vaccines have usually been implemented without prior trials documenting their effect on overall health. It is assumed that if a vaccine prevents a target disease, then the effect on overall mortality is beneficial and proportional to the number of deaths caused by the disease. However, sometimes this turns out not to be the case. For instance, in low-income countries with high infectious disease mortality, Bacille Calmette-Guérin (BCG) against tuberculosis and measles vaccines have stronger mortality-reducing effects than can be ascribed to prevention of tuberculosis and measles infections, i.e. they also protect against other infectious diseases. In other words, in addition to their disease specific effects, vaccines have “non-specific” effects.