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2020

Annual Report

Global Science for Health Worldwide

Tropical diseases, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and inadequate health care influence the lives of billions of people worldwide.

The Institute of Tropical Medicine in Antwerp, Belgium, promotes the advancement of science and health for all, through innovative research, advanced education, professional services and capacity building of partner institutions in the South.

For us, scientific excellence and societal impact are two sides of the same coin.

Our vision
Equal chances at a healthy life for all.
Our mission
Scientific progress in tropical medicine and public health.
Icon for visualisation of core tasks
Our core tasks
Scientific research; higher education; medical and scientific service provision.
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Our values
Excellence & Relevance, Integrity, Fairness, Sustainability & Persistance
Our vision
Our vision
Icon for visualisation of core tasks
Our core tasks
Icon of a heart
Our values

Foreword

Cathy Berx

“2020 has been an exceptional year in so many ways. Despite its many hardships, never have I learnt so much about how the pieces of our global puzzle fit together and how relevant the work of ITM and its employees is to face public health threats.

I am so honoured to have been able to reside over the governance bodies of the Institute during this time, and all the achievements that have been so diligently delivered throughout this intense year."

Read more
Cathy Berx
Marc-Alain Widdowson

Director's note

Marc-Alain Widdowson

“In last year’s publication I said I was looking forward to an 'exciting 2020'. Has this wish come true in my first full year as Director, the same year a global pandemic took the world by storm?

We were not expecting to put our research ambition of emerging and re-emerging diseases formulated in late 2019 to work so soon. But we rose up to the challenge and passed this test with flying colours!...”

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ITM under the lens

Pathogens, Patients, Populations = P3

Our three scientific departments focus on Pathogens, Patients and Populations (P3) and all contribute to our four core tasks of research, education, medical services and development cooperation.

Infographic P3

Worldwide impact

Development cooperation

Courses on study design and research methodology in Cuba
In January, the short course on ‘Qualitative research and introduction to mixed methods designs for disease control’ took place at the ITM partner Pedro Kourí Institute of Tropical Medicine (IPK), Havana, Cuba, with the aim to provide masters’ students with different research paradigms and methods, to design appropriate methodological approaches.Researchers from the National Institute of Hygiene, Epidemiology and Microbiology (INHEM) in Havana and ITM are collaborating on the project ‘Quality assessment of care of type 2 diabetic patients and interventions to optimise care at the primary level in two Cuban provinces’. INHEM researchers organised a workshop in March to provide the wider project team with the tools to design and evaluate the upcoming intervention.
A telemonitoring platform for COVID-19 patients in Peru
A platform for remote clinical monitoring of COVID-19 patients was designed by the Instituto de Medicina Tropical Alexander von Humboldt (IMTAvH) and a team of IT collaborators. It is dedicated to optimising the care of patients with COVID-19 symptoms that do not require hospitalisation. Patients are classified to either receive daily automated messages or phone calls by doctors working from home. Thanks to the collaboration based on the ITM-DGD framework agreement, the latest version of the tool has been able to monitor over 2400 patients with more than 8500 follow-ups, as it allows for contact tracing and evaluation of antibiotic use and self-medication.
Building Scientific and Research Capacity in DRC
By strengthening the specific capacities of three partner institutions and those of potential new partners, the CREDO project will contribute to the appropriate preparation and reaction to the consequences of COVID-19 and other emerging diseases, which regularly affect the population of DRC and may pose a global health security threat.

In the framework of the project, the Marleen Boelaert Fellowship Scheme has been created to help identify promising research staff at an early stage in their career and provide post-doctoral experience to strengthen the capacities and skillsof Congolese researchers.
ITM wins Digitalisation for Development prize
Our institute was recognised with the ‘D4D - Digitalisation for Development’ prize in October for the joint project ‘Smart Glasses 4 Health’ in the DRC. This innovative initiative integrates different strategies to improve patient care and make better referrals in the rural district of Kingandu. Using high-tech smart glasses linked to a smartphone, nurses and midwifes in remote health centres can get live advice from a medical doctor in the district hospital during consultations. The project is a collaboration between Memisa and technical partners Iristick and Avanti. ITM alumna Elies Van Belle (Director of Memisa) and Steven Serneels (Iristick) received the award from the Minister of Development Cooperation, Meryame Kitir.
Fighting antimicrobial resistance in Mozambique
In Mozambique, bacterial infections represent an important cause of disease and death, and antimicrobial resistance is a growing problem. The Mozambican National Institute of Health (INS) and ITM have been looking at taking a science-based approach to the containment of antibiotic resistance. Together they organised a workshop on bacterial culture media preparation in February, to train lab technicians of INS and of the Mavalane General Hospital in Maputo.

The preparation of culture media is often challenging in low-resource settings which can affect the test results, so strengthening laboratories in the basic skills required for clinical bacteriology is essential. ITM’s capacity building programme in Mozambique is supported by the Flemish Government.
A treatment study of cutaneous leishmaniasis with miltefosine - A first ever in Africa
ITM and Ethiopian partners conducted a treatment study of cutaneous leishmaniasis (CL), the first ever such study in the African continent. CL results in relatively severe lesions, which are hard to treat. Currently, most patients are treated with pentavalent antimonials, although effectiveness seems poor. Researchers systematically recorded outcomes and side-effects for patients with CL lesions that required systemic treatment and who were treated with the medicine miltefosine, in a prospective study in two hospitals in Ethiopia. Based on the results, researchers propose to include miltefosine in future clinical trials, but to adapt the treatment regimen using combination therapy or treatment extension to improve overall outcomes and reduce relapse.
Alliance of education and exchange
Institutional capacity building supported by DGD
Institutional capacity building supported by Flanders
Courses on study design and research methodology in Cuba
In January, the short course on ‘Qualitative research and introduction to mixed methods designs for disease control’ took place at the ITM partner Pedro Kourí Institute of Tropical Medicine (IPK), Havana, Cuba, with the aim to provide masters’ students with different research paradigms and methods, to design appropriate methodological approaches.Researchers from the National Institute of Hygiene, Epidemiology and Microbiology (INHEM) in Havana and ITM are collaborating on the project ‘Quality assessment of care of type 2 diabetic patients and interventions to optimise care at the primary level in two Cuban provinces’. INHEM researchers organised a workshop in March to provide the wider project team with the tools to design and evaluate the upcoming intervention.
A telemonitoring platform for Covid-19 patients in Peru
A platform for remote clinical monitoring of COVID-19 patients was designed by the Instituto de Medicina Tropical Alexander von Humboldt (IMTAvH) and a team of IT collaborators. It is dedicated to optimising the care of patients with COVID-19 symptoms that do not require hospitalisation. Patients are classified to either receive daily automated messages or phone calls by doctors working from home. Thanks to the collaboration based on the ITM-DGD framework agreement, the latest version of the tool has been able to monitor over 2400 patients with more than 8500 follow-ups, as it allows for contact tracing and evaluation of antibiotic use and self-medication.
Building Scientific and Research Capacity in DRC
By strengthening the specific capacities of three partner institutions and those of potential new partners, the CREDO project will contribute to the appropriate preparation and reaction to the consequences of COVID-19 and other emerging diseases, which regularly affect the population of DRC and may pose a global health security threat.

In the framework of the project, the Marleen Boelaert Fellowship Scheme has been created to help identify promising research staff at an early stage in their career and provide post-doctoral experience to strengthen the capacities and skillsof Congolese researchers.
ITM wins Digitalisation for Development prize
Our institute was recognised with the ‘D4D - Digitalisation for Development’ prize in October for the joint project ‘Smart Glasses 4 Health’ in the DRC. This innovative initiative integrates different strategies to improve patient care and make better referrals in the rural district of Kingandu. Using high-tech smart glasses linked to a smartphone, nurses and midwifes in remote health centres can get live advice from a medical doctor in the district hospital during consultations. The project is a collaboration between Memisa and technical partners Iristick and Avanti. ITM alumna Elies Van Belle (Director of Memisa) and Steven Serneels (Iristick) received the award from the Minister of Development Cooperation, Meryame Kitir.
A treatment study of cutaneous leishmaniasis with miltefosine - A first ever in Africa
ITM and Ethiopian partners conducted a treatment study of cutaneous leishmaniasis (CL), the first ever such study in the African continent. CL results in relatively severe lesions, which are hard to treat.

Currently, most patients are treated with pentavalent antimonials, although effectiveness seems poor. Researchers systematically recorded outcomes and side-effects for patients with CL lesions that required systemic treatment and who were treated with the medicine miltefosine, in a prospective study in two hospitals in Ethiopia.

Based on the results, researchers propose to include miltefosine in future clinical trials, but to adapt the treatment regimen using combination therapy or treatment extension to improve overall outcomes and reduce relapse.
map Mozambique
Fighting antimicrobial resistance in Mozambique
In Mozambique, bacterial infections represent an important cause of disease and death, and antimicrobial resistance is a growing problem. The Mozambican National Institute of Health (INS) and ITM have been looking at taking a science-based approach to the containment of antibiotic resistance. Together they organised a workshop on bacterial culture media preparation in February, to train lab technicians of INS and of the Mavalane General Hospital in Maputo.

The preparation of culture media is often challenging in low-resource settings which can affect the test results, so strengthening laboratories in the basic skills required for clinical bacteriology is essential. ITM’s capacity building programme in Mozambique is supported by the Flemish Government.
Havana, Cuba
Instituto Nacional de Higiene, Epidemiologia y Microbiologia (INHEM)

Instituto Pedro Kourí (IPK)
Quito, Ecuador
Institute of Public Health, Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador (PUCE)
Lima, Peru
Instituto de Medicina Tropical “Alexander von Humboldt” (IMTAvH), Universidad Cayetano Herredia
Cochabamba, Bolivia
Post-Graduate Medical School, Universidad Mayor de San Simon (UMSS)
Rabat, Morocco
École Nationale de Santé Publique (ENSP)
Dakar, Senegal
Laboratoires de Virologie, Bactériologie et Parasitologie, Université de Dakar
Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso
Clinical Research Unit of Nanoro (CRUN), including Centre Muraz
Guinea
Centre National de Formation et Recherche de Maferinyah
Abidjan, Ivory Coast
École Nationale Supérieure de Statistique et de Economie Appliquée (ENSEA)
Cotonou, Benin
Laboratoire de Référence des Mycobactéries (LRM)
Gondar, Ethiopia
College of Medicine and Health Sciences, University of Gondar
Kampala, Uganda
School of Public Health (SPH - MUCHS), Makerere University College of Health Sciences
Kinshasa, DRC
Institut National de Recherche Biomédicale (INRB), Ministère de la Santé Publique

Programme National de Lutte contre la Trypanosomiase Humaine (PNLTHA)
Kimpese, DRC
Centre de Recherche Sanitaire de Kimpese (CRSK)
Lubumbashi, DRC
École de Santé Publique (ESP), Université de Lubumbashi
Pretoria, South Africa
Department of Veterinary Tropical Diseases (DVRD), University of Pretoria (DVTD)
Maputo, Mozambique
Instituto Nacional de Saúde (INS)
Cape Town, South Africa
School of Public Health, University of Western Cape (UWC)
Bangalore, India
Institute of Public Health (IPH)
Dharan, Nepal
B.P. Koirala Institute of Health Sciences (BPKIHS)
Hanoi, Vietnam
National Institute of Malariology, Parasitology and Entomology (NIMPE)
Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Sihanouk Hospital Center of HOPE (SHCH)

National Centre for HIV/Aids, Dermatology and STD’s (NCHADS)

National Centre for Parasitology, Entomology and Malaria Control (NMC)

National Institute of Public Health (NIPH)
Yogyakarta, Indonesia
Center for Tropical Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, Gadjah Mada University
Insitutional partners in 
Latin America
Cochabamba, Bolivia - Post-Graduate Medical School, Universidad Mayor de San Simon (UMSS)
Havana, Cuba - Instituto Nacional de Higiene, Epidemiologia y Microbiologia (INHEM)
Havana, Cuba - Instituto Pedro Kourí (IPK)
Quinto, Ecuador - Institute of Public Health, Pontificia Universidad Católica del Ecuador (PUCE)
Lima, Peru - Instituto de Medicina Tropical “Alexander von Humboldt” (IMTAvH), Universidad Cayetano Herredia
Insitutional partners in Africa
Cotonou, Benin - Laboratoire de Référence des Mycobactéries (LRM)
Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso - Clinical Research Unit of Nanoro (CRUN), including Centre Muraz
Kinshana, DRC - Institut National de Recherche Biomédicale (INRB), Ministère de la Santé Publique
Kinshana, DRC - Programme National de Lutte contre la Trypanosomiase Humaine (PNLTHA)
Lubumbashi, DRC - École de Santé Publique (ESP), Université de Lubumbashi
Kimpese, DRC - Centre de Recherche Sanitaire de Kimpese (CRSK)
Gondar, Ethiopia - College of Medicine and Health Sciences, University of Gondar
Guinea - Centre National de Formation et Recherche de Maferinyah
Abidjan, Ivory Coast - École Nationale Supérieure de Statistique et de Economie Appliquée (ENSEA)
Rabat, Morocco - École Nationale de Santé Publique (ENSP)
Maputo, Mozambique - Instituto Nacional de Saúde (INS)
Dakar, Senegal - Laboratoires de Virologie, Bactériologie et Parasitologie, Université de Dakar
Cape Town, South Africa - School of Public Health, University of Western Cape (UWC)
Pretoria, South Africa - Department of Veterinary Tropical Diseases (DVRD), University of Pretoria (DVTD)
Kampala, Uganda - School of Public Health (SPH - MUCHS), Makerere University College of Health Sciences
Insitutional partners in Asia
Phnom penh, Cambodia - Sihanouk Hospital Center of HOPE (SHCH)
Phnom penh, Cambodia - National Centre for HIV/Aids, Dermatology and STD’s (NCHADS)
Phnom penh, Cambodia - National Centre for Parasitology, Entomology and Malaria Control (NMC)
Phnom penh, Cambodia - National Institute of Public Health (NIPH)
Bangalore, India - Institute of Public Health (IPH)
Yogyakarta , Indonesia - Center for Tropical Medicine, Faculty of Medicine, Gadjah Mada University
Dharan, Nepal - B.P. Koirala Institute of Health Sciences (BPKIHS)
Hanoi, Vietnam - National Institute of Malariology, Parasitology and Entomology (NIMPE)

Development cooperation in a nutshell

illustration partner countries
illustration institutional partners
11
Partner countries
19
Institutional (DGD) partners

Within our multi-year (2017-2021) framework agreement with the Directorate-General Development Cooperation and Humanitarian Aid (DGD), ITM is responsible for a comprehensive scientific capacity building programme that includes medical, veterinary and scientific training, and research and capacity building. Our partner organisations range from universities and public health institutes to hospitals and disease control programmes.


Facing the COVID-19 pandemic, all collaborations were affected with programme activities being adapted, postponed or reoriented due to lockdown mobility restrictions and partners assuming extra responsibilities in the local or national response to crisis.

Anticipating the spread of the coronavirus pandemic and possible other outbreaks in the DRC, DGD granted an important additional funding for ‘CREDO’, a complementary programme for ‘Building Scientific and Research Capacity to Respond to Emerging and Re-emerging Diseases (COVID-19)’.

The pandemic did not stop ITM and its partners from looking at future collaborations. We signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Institute of Public Health in Bangalore, India, member of ITM’s Alliance for Education in Tropical Medicine and International Public Health.

COVID-19 timeline


It is ITM’s ambition to provide top-notch medical care and laboratory services in the expertise domain of tropical infectious diseases for patients in Belgium. The uniquely challenging year of 2020 definitely provided our Institute with ample opportunities to live up to this aspiration.

With travelling - and thus our Travel Clinic activities - coming to a screeching halt in the spring, ITM physicians, infectious disease specialists, virologists and laboratory staff immersed themselves in the immediate clinical response to the unfolding COVID-19 pandemic. They were followed by our epidemiologists, public health researchers and other experts, and many people working on national and international research projects.

While several of our ongoing international clinical trials experienced disruption, ITM’s Clinical Trials Unit, evaluated as the country’s best in 2017, began supporting the emerging COVID-19-related trials, in Belgium and abroad. Likewise, our multidisciplinary Outbreak Research Team put its epidemic expertise to use during the unprecedented coronavirus pandemic. Below an overview of our numerous COVID-19-related activities. Research

March
Photo of a person at work in the University Hospital (UZA)
Medical services

ITM’s immediate clinical response to COVID-19

  • Physicians provided clinical support to UZA (Antwerp University Hospital).
  • Laboratory technicians were reoriented and trained to analyse COVID-19 samples.
  • Infectious disease experts began coordinating the Belgian treatment guidelines for hospitals and general practitioners.
  • Teaching staff shifted courses to online education almost overnight.
newborn baby
Research

Impact of the pandemic on maternal and newborn health care

traffic in Congo
Development cooperation

Health Policy Professor Wim Van Damme, who was in the DRC when the pandemic hit the African continent, decided it best to stay there and support the first response of ITM’s partner institutes and acted as advisor to the Congolese government on its coronavirus response.

antibodies
Research

Do COVID-19 antibodies protect against new infection?

Research

Our epidemiologists began analysing contact tracing data for the Common Community Commission of the Brussels-Capital Region to help identify clusters of cases and risk factors of infection.

blood tubes for analysis
Research

ITM epidemiologists conducted a retrospective analysis of COVID-19 data collected during the first COVID-19 wave in long-term elderly care facilities. They examined which institutional factors contributed to outbreaks in the different institutions. The research is funded by the Agency of Care and Health of the Flemish Ministry of Health.

illustration of cells
Research

ITM virologists joined two other COVID-19 FWO-projects led by the University of Antwerp. The research aims to improve epidemiological assessments, to determine the course of COVID-19 disease and to roll out targeted COVID-19 vaccination campaigns.

men examines covid cells with microscope
Development cooperation

ANTICOV: the largest COVID-19 clinical trial in Africa

April
Group of public health researchers respecting the social distance
Research

Public health researchers started coordinating a project on the impact of COVID-19 on three ethnic minority groups in Antwerp.

Medical services

ITM and Sciensano began investigating the number of COVID-19 infections among healthcare workers in Belgian hospitals. In early May, 8.4% of health workers had antibodies to SARS-CoV-2.

Education

We launched the ITM alumni webinar series, with alumni presenting their impressions on the COVID-19 outbreak in their countries and highlighting their engagement in the fight against the pandemic.

May
blood cells
Research

Researchers from ITM, UZA and the University of Antwerp launched a study to understand immune responses in mild and severe COVID-19 patients and to find out the ‘right’ immune response for a vaccine more quickly.

June
africover
Development cooperation

AfriCoVER: Community-based research into transmission of COVID-19 virus in Mozambique

August
Development cooperation

ITM’s Department of Public Health, the Ghana Health Service and the West African Health Organisation joined forces in a two-year, International Development Research-funded project to map out existing evidence and its use in informing responses to COVID-19, in six countries in West and Central Africa.

November
man getting vacinated
Research

Mapping vaccine hesitancy

logo unCoVer study
Research

The European Commission awarded the only COVID-19 coordination and support action to the UnCoVer consortium, which is coordinated by ITM. UnCoVer is a network of 29 research institutions in 18 countries, collecting data derived from the provision of care to COVID-19 patients across Europe and internationally. These real-world data will allow for studies into patient’s characteristics, risk factors, safety and effectiveness of treatments and potential strategies against COVID-19 in real settings.

December
Medical services

Ensemble-2: a COVID-19 vaccine trial

COVID-19 Timeline

It is ITM’s ambition to provide top notch medical care and laboratory services in the expertise domain of tropical infectious diseases for the patients in Belgium. The uniquely challenging year of 2020 definitely provided our Institute with ample opportunities to live up to this aspiration. With travelling (hence, travel clinic activities) coming to a screeching halt in the spring, ITM physicians, infectious disease specialists, virologists and laboratory staff immersed themselves in the immediate clinical response to the unfolding Covid-19 pandemic. They were followed by our epidemiologists, public health researchers and other experts, and many national and international research projects.

While several of our ongoing clinical trials abroad experienced disruption, ITM’s Clinical Trials Unit, evaluated as the country’s best in 2017, began supporting the emerging Covid-19-related trials, in Belgium and abroad. Likewise, our multidisciplinary Outbreak Research Team put its epidemic expertise to use during the unprecedented coronavirus pandemic.

March
Photo of a person at work in the University Hospital (UZA)
Medical services

ITM’s immediate clinical response to COVID-19

  • Physicians provided clinical support to UZA (Antwerp University Hospital).
  • Laboratory technicians were reoriented and trained to analyse COVID-19 samples.
  • Infectious disease experts began coordinating the Belgian treatment guidelines for hospitals and general practitioners.
  • Teaching staff shifted courses to online education almost overnight.
April
Group of public health researchers respecting the social distance
Research

Public health researchers started coordinating a project on the impact of COVID-19 on three ethnic minority groups in Antwerp.

Medical services

ITM and Sciensano began investigating the number of COVID-19 infections among healthcare workers in Belgian hospitals. In early May, 8.4% of health workers had antibodies to SARS-CoV-2.

newborn baby
Research

Impact of the pandemic on maternal and newborn health care

Education

We launched the ITM alumni webinar series, with alumni presenting their impressions on the COVID-19 outbreak in their countries and highlighting their engagement in the fight against the pandemic.

traffic in Congo
Development cooperation

Health Policy Professor Wim Van Damme, who was in the DRC when the pandemic hit the African continent, decided it best to stay there and support the first response of ITM’s partner institutes and acted as advisor to the Congolese government on its coronavirus response.

May
blood cells
Research

Researchers from ITM, UZA and the University of Antwerp launched a study to understand immune responses in mild and severe COVID-19 patients and to find out the ‘right’ immune response for a vaccine more quickly.

antibodies
Research

Do COVID-19 antibodies protect against new infection?

June
africover
Development cooperation

AfriCoVER: Community-based research into transmission of COVID-19 virus in Mozambique

Research

Our epidemiologists began analysing contact tracing data for the Common Community Commission of the Brussels-Capital Region to help identify clusters of cases and risk factors of infection.

August
Development cooperation

ITM’s Department of Public Health, the Ghana Health Service and the West African Health Organisation joined forces in a two-year, International Development Research-funded project to map out existing evidence and its use in informing responses to COVID-19, in six countries in West and Central Africa.

blood tubes for analysis
Research

ITM epidemiologists conducted a retrospective analysis of COVID-19 data collected during the first COVID-19 wave in long-term elderly care facilities. They examined which institutional factors contributed to outbreaks in the different institutions. The research is funded by the Agency of Care and Health of the Flemish Ministry of Health.

November
man getting vacinated
Research

Mapping vaccine hesitancy

illustration of cells
Research

ITM virologists joined two other COVID-19 FWO-projects led by the University of Antwerp. The research aims to improve epidemiological assessments, to determine the course of COVID-19 disease and to roll out targeted COVID-19 vaccination campaigns.

logo unCoVer study
Research

The European Commission awarded the only COVID-19 coordination and support action to the UnCoVer consortium, which is coordinated by ITM. UnCoVer is a network of 29 research institutions in 18 countries, collecting data derived from the provision of care to COVID-19 patients across Europe and internationally. These real-world data will allow for studies into patient’s characteristics, risk factors, safety and effectiveness of treatments and potential strategies against COVID-19 in real settings.

men examines covid cells with microscope
Development cooperation

ANTICOV: the largest COVID-19 clinical trial in Africa

December
Medical services

Ensemble-2: a COVID-19 vaccine trial

A close-up of our medical services

illustration partner sample analyses
illustration medical vaccinations
illustrations consultations in our travel clinics
472,470
Patient sample analyses
15,031
Administered vaccinations
28,864
Consultations in our travel and HIV/STI clinics

Research & innovation

Digital follow-up system for stable HIV patients
Digital follow-up system for stable HIV patients

Stable HIV patients can be monitored remotely via a secure app that allows them to view their laboratory results. The GP carries out the monitoring in close collaboration with the patient. A two-year pilot project at ITM showed that this digital monitoring is highly appreciated by HIV patients and has no negative impact on the quality of care. On the basis of the laboratory results, the doctor determines whether the patient is stable and informs the patient of the results via the secure app. If the patient agrees, he or she will be able to get a remote consultation and receive his/her prescriptions by post or electronically. The digital follow-up is the result of ‘EmERGE’, an EU-funded research project. The new monitoring method was also tested and approved in HIV clinics in England, Croatia, Spain and Portugal.

A sister lineage of the Mycobacterium tuberculosis complex discovered in the African Great Lakes region
A sister lineage of the Mycobacterium tuberculosis complex discovered in the African Great Lakes region

Voices from the frontline: findings from a thematic analysis of a rapid online global survey of maternal and newborn health professionals facing the COVID-19 pandemic
Voices from the frontline: findings from a thematic analysis of a rapid online global survey of maternal and newborn health professionals facing the COVID-19 pandemic

Artemisinin exposure at the ring or trophozoite stage impacts Plasmodium falciparum sexual conversion differently
Artemisinin exposure at the ring or trophozoite stage impacts Plasmodium falciparum sexual conversion differently

The new insectarium as multidisciplinary research hub
The new insectarium as multidisciplinary research hub

The outbreaks of Zika virus disease and yellow fever in 2015–2016 have highlighted the global public health challenges we face from upsurges of insect-borne diseases. Due to climate change, globalisation, environmental and social factors, the insects and the diseases that they can transmit, are spreading worldwide. ITM is home to more than 1000 mosquitoes and flies in a unique ultra-modern insectary infrastructure set up in 2020. Scientists are carrying out research on the interactions between pathogens, insects, humans and the environment. This allows the Institute to contribute to the prevention, detection and control of insect-borne infectious disease outbreaks. The Flemish Ministry of Economy, Innovation and Science provided key funding for the facility, and Minister Hilde Crevits visited the insectary to see its progress in July.

Impact of the visceral leishmaniasis elimination initiative on Leishmania donovani transmission in Nepal: a 10-year repeat survey
Impact of the visceral leishmaniasis elimination initiative on Leishmania donovani transmission in Nepal: a 10-year repeat survey

ITM signs Memorandum of Understanding with Thailand
ITM signs Memorandum of Understanding with Thailand

On 20 January, ITM and a delegation of four Thai scientists from the government and the health sector reaffirmed their joint commitment to academic cooperation. Additionally, both parties agreed to look at possible collaborations in the field of public health research.

New diagnostics for sleeping sickness
New diagnostics for sleeping sickness

For years, ITM has been at the forefront of the fight against human African trypanosomiasis (HAT) or sleeping sickness. Our researchers continue to develop new diagnostics and innovative control strategies. Every year, several hundred gambiense-HAT cases are reported in Africa, with the vast majority in the DRC. ITM is working with its Congolese partners to eliminate the disease by 2030. To measure elimination success with prevalences close to zero, highly specific and sensitive diagnostics are necessary. Such a test exists in the form of an antibody- mediated complement lysis test, the trypanolysis test, but biosafety issues and technological requirements prevent its large-scale use. ITM researchers developed a new, highly specific and sensitive test (inhibition ELISA) that is applicable in regional laboratories in gambiense-HAT endemic countries. The project is funded by DGD and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Geerts et al., Clinical Infectious Diseases, 2020

Seed funding from ITM’s ‘Joint Pump Priming Programme’ inspires nine new cross-organisational research projects
Seed funding from ITM’s ‘Joint Pump Priming Programme’ inspires nine new cross-organisational research projects

In order to further strengthen ITM’s partnerships in Flanders and beyond, the 2020 edition of our Joint Pump Priming Programme (JPPP) stimulated ITM researchers to submit a joint application with outside researchers who are willing to co-invest in the development of a new research idea. Nine joint projects were approved and include collaborations with the Catholic University of Leuven on malaria transmission; the Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic on Leishmania lifecycle; Nagasaki University, Japan on stillbirths and newborn health; University of Antwerp on COVID-19, chemsex, and West Nile neuro-invasive disease; University of Colorado and Harvard University, US on drug resistance in tuberculosis; and the University of Tartu, Estonia on SARS-CoV-2 fitness.

FWO awards scholarships to three PhD candidates to conduct data-driven infectious disease research
FWO awards scholarships to three PhD candidates to conduct data-driven infectious disease research

In 2020, FWO awarded a PhD Scholarship to three junior researchers who will conduct a joint research project at ITM and the University of Antwerp. All three PhD projects will use and develop computational methods, data mining and machine learning algorithms Partnershipsfor advanced parasitic and viral disease research. In the Department of Clinical Sciences, Anna Postovskaya will work on T-cell receptor-based diagnostics for viral diseases, while Nicky de Vrij will work on Leishmania epitope repertoire of the human T-cell response. In the Department of Biomedical Sciences, Yasmina Drissi El Boukili will work on factors that impact Plasmodium falciparum sexual conversion. The computational component of the research in all projects will be guided by the expertise of the University of Antwerp data science lab led by Professor Laukens.

Chloroquine and Hydroxychloroquine for the Prevention or Treatment of COVID-19 in Africa: Caution for Inappropriate Off-label Use in Healthcare Settings
Chloroquine and Hydroxychloroquine for the Prevention or Treatment of COVID-19 in Africa: Caution for Inappropriate Off-label Use in Healthcare Settings

ITM and partner INRB join the new NIH Centers for Research in Emerging Infectious Diseases
ITM and partner INRB join the new NIH Centers for Research in Emerging Infectious Diseases

In line with ITM’s research priority on (re-)emerging infections and outbreaks, we have joined a new international partnership. In 2020, the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) established ten new Centers for Research in Emerging Infectious Diseases (CREID) across the globe. The goal of this new global network is to conduct multidisciplinary research into how and where viruses and other pathogens emerge from wildlife and spill over to cause disease in human beings. Each CREID centre involves collaborations with research institutions from the North and South that focus on diseases relevant to specific regions. ITM and the DRC-based Institut Nationale de Recherche Biomédicale are collaborators in the East and Central Africa centre. In 2021 they will jointly start investigations on Rift Valley fever and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).

Understanding antibiotic use to combat antimicrobial resistance
Understanding antibiotic use to combat antimicrobial resistance

ITM has antimicrobial resistance (AMR) high on its agenda. In a recent study, researchers looked into antibiotic use in patients with persistent fever before seeking medical care in a hospital in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC), and found that ‘Watch’ antibiotics were widely used in certain LMICs, such as Nepal and Cambodia. According to the World Health Organization, the ‘Watch’ group includes clinically important antibiotics that are at relatively high risk of selection of bacterial resistance, and they should be prioritised as key targets of antibiotic stewardship programmes and monitoring. This study informed other ongoing research at ITM, which, in collaboration with partners Institut National pour la Recherche Biomedicale (INRB – National Institute for Biomedical Research), Centre de Recherche en Santé de Kimpese (CRSK – Health Research Centre of Kimpese), and Clinical Research Unit of Nanoro (CRUN), aims to look into antibiotic use in the community in the DRC and Burkina Faso, and compare this to hospital use. The ultimate goal is to find out how best to optimise antibiotic use in order to prevent a further increase in AMR.

Ingelbeen et al., Clinical Microbiology and Infection, 2020

#Letstalkpositive2020 campaign
#Letstalkpositive2020 campaign

In the run-up to World AIDS Day on 1 December, ITM launched a mouth mask campaign which invited people to change the negative discourse about living with HIV, to provide support to the affected community. Annually, around 3000 people with HIV are being followed up at ITM’s HIV/STI clinic.

Exposing false resistance problem of tuberculosis
Exposing false resistance problem of tuberculosis

With around 1.5 million deaths a year, tuberculosis (TB) is the world’s deadliest infectious disease. Rifampicin is the most effective drug against TB, yet it no longer works against all TB strains. Detecting resistance to this drug as early as possible is crucial for selecting the right treatment for TB patients. One of our PhD students and a fellow biologist supervising the national TB reference laboratory in Rwanda, exposed a serious problem in Rwandan patients with tests that detect resistance to TB drugs. Half of the tested persons infected with resistant TB were falsely diagnosed and did not get the correct treatment. Based on this finding, the National TB Programme in Rwanda changed its diagnostic algorithm and patients now receive proper care. ITM’s research on TB is world-renowned. Our institute has the largest public collection of TB strains for research.

Ngabonziza et al, The Lancet Microbe, 2020

Preventing new epidemics through molecular surveillance
Preventing new epidemics through molecular surveillance

Molecular surveillance is essential for controlling infectious diseases but for neglected tropical diseases this methodology remains underexploited. ITM researchers studied its relevance for ongoing elimination programmes in the cases of leishmaniasis, sleeping sickness and Chagas disease, and highlighted its potential in preventing new epidemics. Molecular surveillance is based on genetic methods that identify the genome of a pathogen and provides extremely detailed and reliable data. Therefore, the origin of an epidemic and its transmission route can be identified and measures can be taken. Over the last decade, ITM has invested in studies of the genome of parasites responsible for neglected diseases. The financial support of the Flemish Government’s Department of Economy, Science and Innovation made this possible.

Domagalska & Dujardin, Trends in Parasitology, 2020

Exposing link between climate change and the emergence of new pathogens
Exposing link between climate change and the emergence of new pathogens

Since the 1980s, ITM scientists and Peruvian partners have been studying the molecular epidemiology of leishmaniasis. This infectious disease, existing for thousands of years, is caused by a parasite and spreads via sandflies. Leishmaniasis causes severe mutilations of the skin or intestines and can lead to death. Researchers of ITM and the Instituto de Medicina Tropical ‘Alexander von Humboldt’ in Lima have undertaken studies into the parasite in the Peruvian Andes. Frozen samples were brought back to life and, thanks to modern technology, the entire genome was read. This study is a very rare and well-founded example of ecological speciation. The researchers found new indications that the emergence of new diseases and climate change go hand in hand. Because of global warming and globalisation, we will see more and more tropical diseases emerging in our regions.

Van den Broeck et al., PNAS, 2020

Population-Level Antimicrobial Consumption Is Associated With Decreased Antimicrobial Susceptibility in Neisseria gonorrhoeae in 24 European Countries: An Ecological Analysis
Population-Level Antimicrobial Consumption Is Associated With Decreased Antimicrobial Susceptibility in Neisseria gonorrhoeae in 24 European Countries: An Ecological Analysis

Acceptability and feasibility of PrEP in West Africa
Acceptability and feasibility of PrEP in West Africa

For several years, ITM has been conducting research on oral pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), a preventive method which entails the use of antiretroviral medication among HIV negative individuals. A study conducted in Côte d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Mali and Togo showed that the use of daily and event-driven oral PrEP among MSM (men having sex with men) at high risk for HIV infection, substantially reduced HIV incidence. As a conclusion, PrEP is considered feasible in these settings and is recommended for further implementation. In collaboration with local research teams, ITM researchers are also conducting a qualitative research project to anticipate the PrEP roll-out in these countries. Preliminary findings suggest that the anticipated risk of being seen using PrEP may limit its uptake and use, due to its associations with homosexuality, HIV and promiscuity. For these MSM, long-acting PrEP modalities such as implants or injectable PrEP may be a highly promising additional strategy.

ITM’s investigation into a case of malaria infection in Belgium
ITM’s investigation into a case of malaria infection in Belgium

In September, an elderly couple in Kampenhout, Belgium died of malaria. Unusually, the couple caught the disease at home, not while travelling. In all probability, they both received a bite from an infected malaria mosquito that reached our country via an airplane. In order to confirm this hypothesis, ITM scientists from varying disciplines investigated how this exceptional infection could take place. The MEMO (mosquito monitoring) team checked whether the indigenous Anopheles mosquito, which can transmit malaria in laboratory conditions, could be found in Kampenhout. The Unit of Malariology received blood samples from the deceased couple and investigated where the malaria parasite causing the infection came from. Thanks to the multidisciplinary research of ITM, and a census of surrounding mosquito species, it was officially confirmed by the Agency of Care and Health of the Flemish Ministry of Health that the couple was not infected by an indigenous malaria mosquito and that further transmission was unlikely.

ITM’s investigation into a case of malaria infection in Belgium
ITM’s investigation into a case of malaria infection in Belgium

In September, an elderly couple in Kampenhout, Belgium died of malaria. Unusually, the couple caught the disease at home, not while travelling. In all probability, they both received a bite from an infected malaria mosquito that reached our country via an airplane. In order to confirm this hypothesis, ITM scientists from varying disciplines investigated how this exceptional infection could take place. The MEMO (mosquito monitoring) team checked whether the indigenous Anopheles mosquito, which can transmit malaria in laboratory conditions, could be found in Kampenhout. The Unit of Malariology received blood samples from the deceased couple and investigated where the malaria parasite causing the infection came from. Thanks to the multidisciplinary research of ITM, and a census of surrounding mosquito species, it was officially confirmed by the Agency of Care and Health of the Flemish Ministry of Health that the couple was not infected by an indigenous malaria mosquito and that further transmission was unlikely.

The new insectarium as multidisciplinary research hub
The new insectarium as multidisciplinary research hub

The outbreaks of Zika virus disease and yellow fever in 2015–2016 have highlighted the global public health challenges we face from upsurges of insect-borne diseases. Due to climate change, globalisation, environmental and social factors, the insects and the diseases that they can transmit, are spreading worldwide. ITM is home to more than 1000 mosquitoes and flies in a unique ultra-modern insectary infrastructure set up in 2020. Scientists are carrying out research on the interactions between pathogens, insects, humans and the environment. This allows the Institute to contribute to the prevention, detection and control of insect-borne infectious disease outbreaks. The Flemish Ministry of Economy, Innovation and Science provided key funding for the facility, and Minister Hilde Crevits visited the insectary to see its progress in July.

Preventing new epidemics through molecular surveillance
Preventing new epidemics through molecular surveillance

Molecular surveillance is essential for controlling infectious diseases but for neglected tropical diseases this methodology remains underexploited. ITM researchers studied its relevance for ongoing elimination programmes in the cases of leishmaniasis, sleeping sickness and Chagas disease, and highlighted its potential in preventing new epidemics. Molecular surveillance is based on genetic methods that identify the genome of a pathogen and provides extremely detailed and reliable data. Therefore, the origin of an epidemic and its transmission route can be identified and measures can be taken. Over the last decade, ITM has invested in studies of the genome of parasites responsible for neglected diseases. The financial support of the Flemish Government’s Department of Economy, Science and Innovation made this possible.

Domagalska & Dujardin, Trends in Parasitology, 2020

New diagnostics for sleeping sickness
New diagnostics for sleeping sickness

For years, ITM has been at the forefront of the fight against human African trypanosomiasis (HAT) or sleeping sickness. Our researchers continue to develop new diagnostics and innovative control strategies. Every year, several hundred gambiense-HAT cases are reported in Africa, with the vast majority in the DRC. ITM is working with its Congolese partners to eliminate the disease by 2030. To measure elimination success with prevalences close to zero, highly specific and sensitive diagnostics are necessary. Such a test exists in the form of an antibody- mediated complement lysis test, the trypanolysis test, but biosafety issues and technological requirements prevent its large-scale use. ITM researchers developed a new, highly specific and sensitive test (inhibition ELISA) that is applicable in regional laboratories in gambiense-HAT endemic countries. The project is funded by DGD and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Geerts et al., Clinical Infectious Diseases, 2020

Exposing link between climate change and the emergence of new pathogens
Exposing link between climate change and the emergence of new pathogens

Since the 1980s, ITM scientists and Peruvian partners have been studying the molecular epidemiology of leishmaniasis. This infectious disease, existing for thousands of years, is caused by a parasite and spreads via sandflies. Leishmaniasis causes severe mutilations of the skin or intestines and can lead to death. Researchers of ITM and the Instituto de Medicina Tropical ‘Alexander von Humboldt’ in Lima have undertaken studies into the parasite in the Peruvian Andes. Frozen samples were brought back to life and, thanks to modern technology, the entire genome was read. This study is a very rare and well-founded example of ecological speciation. The researchers found new indications that the emergence of new diseases and climate change go hand in hand. Because of global warming and globalisation, we will see more and more tropical diseases emerging in our regions.

Van den Broeck et al., PNAS, 2020

Exposing false resistance problem of tuberculosis
Exposing false resistance problem of tuberculosis

With around 1.5 million deaths a year, tuberculosis (TB) is the world’s deadliest infectious disease. Rifampicin is the most effective drug against TB, yet it no longer works against all TB strains. Detecting resistance to this drug as early as possible is crucial for selecting the right treatment for TB patients. One of our PhD students and a fellow biologist supervising the national TB reference laboratory in Rwanda, exposed a serious problem in Rwandan patients with tests that detect resistance to TB drugs. Half of the tested persons infected with resistant TB were falsely diagnosed and did not get the correct treatment. Based on this finding, the National TB Programme in Rwanda changed its diagnostic algorithm and patients now receive proper care. ITM’s research on TB is world-renowned. Our institute has the largest public collection of TB strains for research.

Ngabonziza et al, The Lancet Microbe, 2020

Understanding antibiotic use to combat antimicrobial resistance
Understanding antibiotic use to combat antimicrobial resistance

ITM has antimicrobial resistance (AMR) high on its agenda. In a recent study, researchers looked into antibiotic use in patients with persistent fever before seeking medical care in a hospital in low- and middle-income countries (LMIC), and found that ‘Watch’ antibiotics were widely used in certain LMICs, such as Nepal and Cambodia. According to the World Health Organization, the ‘Watch’ group includes clinically important antibiotics that are at relatively high risk of selection of bacterial resistance, and they should be prioritised as key targets of antibiotic stewardship programmes and monitoring. This study informed other ongoing research at ITM, which, in collaboration with partners Institut National pour la Recherche Biomedicale (INRB – National Institute for Biomedical Research), Centre de Recherche en Santé de Kimpese (CRSK – Health Research Centre of Kimpese), and Clinical Research Unit of Nanoro (CRUN), aims to look into antibiotic use in the community in the DRC and Burkina Faso, and compare this to hospital use. The ultimate goal is to find out how best to optimise antibiotic use in order to prevent a further increase in AMR.

Ingelbeen et al., Clinical Microbiology and Infection, 2020

Digital follow-up system for stable HIV patients
Digital follow-up system for stable HIV patients

Stable HIV patients can be monitored remotely via a secure app that allows them to view their laboratory results. The GP carries out the monitoring in close collaboration with the patient. A two-year pilot project at ITM showed that this digital monitoring is highly appreciated by HIV patients and has no negative impact on the quality of care. On the basis of the laboratory results, the doctor determines whether the patient is stable and informs the patient of the results via the secure app. If the patient agrees, he or she will be able to get a remote consultation and receive his/her prescriptions by post or electronically. The digital follow-up is the result of ‘EmERGE’, an EU-funded research project. The new monitoring method was also tested and approved in HIV clinics in England, Croatia, Spain and Portugal.

#Letstalkpositive2020 campaign
#Letstalkpositive2020 campaign

In the run-up to World AIDS Day on 1 December, ITM launched a mouth mask campaign which invited people to change the negative discourse about living with HIV, to provide support to the affected community. Annually, around 3000 people with HIV are being followed up at ITM’s HIV/STI clinic.

Acceptability and feasibility of PrEP in West Africa
Acceptability and feasibility of PrEP in West Africa

For several years, ITM has been conducting research on oral pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), a preventive method which entails the use of antiretroviral medication among HIV negative individuals. A study conducted in Côte d’Ivoire, Burkina Faso, Mali and Togo showed that the use of daily and event-driven oral PrEP among MSM (men having sex with men) at high risk for HIV infection, substantially reduced HIV incidence. As a conclusion, PrEP is considered feasible in these settings and is recommended for further implementation. In collaboration with local research teams, ITM researchers are also conducting a qualitative research project to anticipate the PrEP roll-out in these countries. Preliminary findings suggest that the anticipated risk of being seen using PrEP may limit its uptake and use, due to its associations with homosexuality, HIV and promiscuity. For these MSM, long-acting PrEP modalities such as implants or injectable PrEP may be a highly promising additional strategy.

ITM signs Memorandum of Understanding with Thailand
ITM signs Memorandum of Understanding with Thailand

On 20 January, ITM and a delegation of four Thai scientists from the government and the health sector reaffirmed their joint commitment to academic cooperation. Additionally, both parties agreed to look at possible collaborations in the field of public health research.

FWO awards scholarships to three PhD candidates to conduct data-driven infectious disease research
FWO awards scholarships to three PhD candidates to conduct data-driven infectious disease research

In 2020, FWO awarded a PhD Scholarship to three junior researchers who will conduct a joint research project at ITM and the University of Antwerp. All three PhD projects will use and develop computational methods, data mining and machine learning algorithms Partnershipsfor advanced parasitic and viral disease research. In the Department of Clinical Sciences, Anna Postovskaya will work on T-cell receptor-based diagnostics for viral diseases, while Nicky de Vrij will work on Leishmania epitope repertoire of the human T-cell response. In the Department of Biomedical Sciences, Yasmina Drissi El Boukili will work on factors that impact Plasmodium falciparum sexual conversion. The computational component of the research in all projects will be guided by the expertise of the University of Antwerp data science lab led by Professor Laukens.

Seed funding from ITM’s ‘Joint Pump Priming Programme’ inspires nine new cross-organisational research projects
Seed funding from ITM’s ‘Joint Pump Priming Programme’ inspires nine new cross-organisational research projects

In order to further strengthen ITM’s partnerships in Flanders and beyond, the 2020 edition of our Joint Pump Priming Programme (JPPP) stimulated ITM researchers to submit a joint application with outside researchers who are willing to co-invest in the development of a new research idea. Nine joint projects were approved and include collaborations with the Catholic University of Leuven on malaria transmission; the Charles University in Prague, Czech Republic on Leishmania lifecycle; Nagasaki University, Japan on stillbirths and newborn health; University of Antwerp on COVID-19, chemsex, and West Nile neuro-invasive disease; University of Colorado and Harvard University, US on drug resistance in tuberculosis; and the University of Tartu, Estonia on SARS-CoV-2 fitness.

ITM and partner INRB join the new NIH Centers for Research in Emerging Infectious Diseases
ITM and partner INRB join the new NIH Centers for Research in Emerging Infectious Diseases

In line with ITM’s research priority on (re-)emerging infections and outbreaks, we have joined a new international partnership. In 2020, the US National Institutes of Health (NIH) established ten new Centers for Research in Emerging Infectious Diseases (CREID) across the globe. The goal of this new global network is to conduct multidisciplinary research into how and where viruses and other pathogens emerge from wildlife and spill over to cause disease in human beings. Each CREID centre involves collaborations with research institutions from the North and South that focus on diseases relevant to specific regions. ITM and the DRC-based Institut Nationale de Recherche Biomédicale are collaborators in the East and Central Africa centre. In 2021 they will jointly start investigations on Rift Valley fever and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS).

Chloroquine and Hydroxychloroquine for the Prevention or Treatment of COVID-19 in Africa: Caution for Inappropriate Off-label Use in Healthcare Settings
Chloroquine and Hydroxychloroquine for the Prevention or Treatment of COVID-19 in Africa: Caution for Inappropriate Off-label Use in Healthcare Settings

Voices from the frontline: findings from a thematic analysis of a rapid online global survey of maternal and newborn health professionals facing the COVID-19 pandemic
Voices from the frontline: findings from a thematic analysis of a rapid online global survey of maternal and newborn health professionals facing the COVID-19 pandemic

Population-Level Antimicrobial Consumption Is Associated With Decreased Antimicrobial Susceptibility in Neisseria gonorrhoeae in 24 European Countries: An Ecological Analysis
Population-Level Antimicrobial Consumption Is Associated With Decreased Antimicrobial Susceptibility in Neisseria gonorrhoeae in 24 European Countries: An Ecological Analysis

Impact of the visceral leishmaniasis elimination initiative on Leishmania donovani transmission in Nepal: a 10-year repeat survey
Impact of the visceral leishmaniasis elimination initiative on Leishmania donovani transmission in Nepal: a 10-year repeat survey

A sister lineage of the Mycobacterium tuberculosis complex discovered in the African Great Lakes region
A sister lineage of the Mycobacterium tuberculosis complex discovered in the African Great Lakes region

Artemisinin exposure at the ring or trophozoite stage impacts Plasmodium falciparum sexual conversion differently
Artemisinin exposure at the ring or trophozoite stage impacts Plasmodium falciparum sexual conversion differently

Research & innovation in a nutshell

illustration international projects
illustration papers in scientific projects
illustration clinical trials
61
New international projects
387
Papers in scientific projects
12
Clinical trials coordinated by ITM

Scientific progress in the fields of tropical medicine and international health is at the heart of our Institute’s academic mission. ITM’s research activities range from basic to operational research and ultimately all aim to tackle important health challenges; one of which in 2020 undoubtedly was the COVID-19 pandemic. Our particular focus is on low-resource settings and vulnerable populations.

Our research policy in 2020–2024 underpins our pursuit of conducting excellent and relevant science, with continued emphasis on equitable partnerships throughout the world. Our research aims to respond to the formidable challenges and opportunities in today’s rapidly changing world: researching (re-)emerging infections and outbreaks, taking on antimicrobial resistance (in viruses, bacteria and parasites), accelerating disease elimination, and designing sustainable health systems and strategies.

Projects
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Publications
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PhD projects
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PhD defenses
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Education

lector giving course digital
Courses go digital

In March 2020, lecturers and course coordinators, with a tremendous collective effort, shifted overnight to online teaching for the on-campus master’s students. Short course students were encouraged to return home and continue their courses online. Short course participants yet to start were offered the possibility to shift to online learning or postpone their registration with some courses being postponed altogether.

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tudents in the new MSc
First batch of students in the new MSc in Tropical Medicine begin

In September, the first 20 students started our Master of Science in Tropical Medicine (MTM) programme. With four continents represented and an average age of 33, this new crop of students is expected to graduate by August 2021.

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First batch of students in the new MSc in Tropical Medicine begin

In September, the first 20 students started our Master of Science in Tropical Medicine (MTM) programme. With four continents represented and an average age of 33, this new crop of students is expected to graduate by August 2021.

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2020 saw the launch of an online alumni platform connecting ITM alumni, students and staff in a virtual hub. More than 1600 ITM community members have joined. The platform’s primary aim is to foster interdisciplinary exchange, scientific and sector-related knowledge-sharing, international collaborations and social networking between ITM community members.

Although planned, the COVID-19 crisis accelerated the need for such a virtual networking space to connect its members from all around the world. In 2021, ITM will launch an accompanying app making networking even easier!

mockup alumni
student receives award for the 2020 price for global research of the province of antwerp
ITM alumni win prize for global research of the Province of Antwerp

Four former ITM master’s students, graduates of our MSc in Public Health and MSc in Tropical Animal Health (2019-2020) have been awarded the 2020 Prize for Global Research of the Province of Antwerp. Through this award, honouring people since 1996, the Province of Antwerp looks to stimulate research relating to the Global South.

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Our students

illustration student
121
Short courses
illustration student
45
Postgraduates
illustration student
80
PhD
illustration student
62
Master's
map Belgium
75
Belgian students
map Europe
29
Other EU-students
worldmap
204
Non-EU-students

It is ITM’s ambition to be a vibrant, global open campus that offers science-driven and societally relevant post-graduate training, in the field of tropical medicine, international public health and tropical animal health. Flexible and blended learning, international mobility and tailored student support are at the heart of ITM’s educational vision.

Every (ordinary) year, more than 500 students and PhD researchers are trained at ITM in expert short and postgraduate courses, advanced master’s courses and doctoral

programmes. In 2020, COVID-19 made it all a little different. ITM quickly switched to online teaching, and later to a hybrid format, where participants could attend classes either online, or face-to-face. This allowed for fewer participants per classroom, and for others to join even if they were unable to travel to Antwerp or were in quarantine.

This experience has opened up new opportunities for the future, among them increased flexibility and the widening of our student pool.

Staff community

Ann - ITM general manager
Welcome, Ann!

“I started at ITM as General Manager exactly one year ago, two weeks before the lockdown. Getting to know an organisation, colleagues, different stakeholders in full “COVID-mode” has definitely been a unique challenge.”

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professors
Arrivals and departures

As in every organisation new faces emerge every year, whilst other dedicated ones retire from our ranks. In 2020 we proudly welcomed professor Dieter Heylen (on the right). Since August he is responsible for the brand new Unit of Eco-modelling within the Department of Biomedical Sciences, which will model and simulate vector-borne diseases via mathematical tools. This helps to understand the underlying dynamics and key drivers of a disease and to predict the impact and the risk factors in a certain area or time period.

Also, in 2020, epidemiologist Epco Hasker (on the left) was appointed Professor of Tropical Infectious Diseases. He has been working at the Department of Public Health since 2008 and has vast research expertise in diseases such as tuberculosis, leprosy and leishmaniasis.

With this welcome, we also sent a warm appreciation to retiring professor Luc Kestens (in the middle), Head of the Unit of Immunology, who has been committed to ITM for a spectacular 42 years. Because of his interest in immunology, Luc had been involved in HIV research since the early days of the HIV pandemic in 1983. In 1985, he was the first to publish the lack of association between HIV and the endemic form of Kaposi’s Sarcoma in Eastern Africa. Since 1985, his main research focus was the immunopathogenesis of HIV.

Sara Van Belle and Chiara Trevisan
FWO support boosts  international research

In 2020, ITM received two FWO postdoctoral fellowships for three years, with Sara Van Belle and Chiara Trevisan successfully applying. Through this, the Research Foundation of Flanders (FWO) boosts the independent, international careers of local researchers.

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Five distinguished academics granted
honorary titles

ITM works with scientists and academics from institutes all around the world, people who demonstrate clear, substantive and ongoing commitments to our mission and vision. In addition to our institutional collaborations, we also want to recognise individual academics and scientists, thus increasing the visibility of valued collaborations and further supporting current and future ones. The recognition of excellence in these partnerships also contributes to ITM’s ambition to be a vibrant open global campus.

In order to endorse partnerships that include an external (inter)national scientist or academic, our Institute awards honorary appointments. In 2020, we were please to grant the following titles:

ITM Honorary Professor
John F May
John F May
George Mason University
ITM Honorary Fellow:
Emmanuel André
Emmanuel André
KU Leuven
Conor Meehan
Conor Meehan
University of Bradford
Patricia Kingori
Patricia Kingori
University of  Oxford
Freddie Ssengooba
Freddie Ssengooba
Makerere University School of Public Health
volunteer with mouth masks they made
1500 ITM mouth masks –
a collective effort

In spring of 2020, a volunteer team of 25 seamstresses and seamsters, all employees of ITM, joined forces to help keep colleagues safe during the pandemic. In one month they sewed 1500 masks - three for each employee.

Marleen Boelaert

Legacy of Marleen Boelaert

Marleen started her career as a doctor in remote areas of Sudan and realised that for some diseases affecting poor people little progress had been made since many decades and that the progress made did not reach those most in need.

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Staff composition

illustration staff
illustration staff
illustration staff
43% - 57%
Executive academic, scientific and medical staff
67% - 33%
Academic, scientific and medical staff
71% - 29%
Administrative and technical staff

Event highlights

King Philippe and Queen Mathilde
23 June

The King and Queen of the Belgians visited ITM to learn about our response to COVID-19, medical services, research projects, training programmes and the importance of international cooperation.

10 July

The Flemish Vice Minister-President and Minister of Economy, Science and Innovation, Hilde Crevits visited us to get an insight into our innovative research projects with social impact.

Erika Sha
27-29 October

The annual ITM Colloquium was held virtually for the first time. Experts from around the world shared their views and experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic.

30 January

DRC commemorated the third National HAT Day, to raise awareness of sleeping sickness and synergise the necessary actions to achieve elimination. The elimination efforts are supported by international partners, among them ITM.

Besmet (Infected) in December

In four episodes, the documentary series ‘Besmet’ highlights major health challenges faced on a local and international scale and ITM’s search for solutions. The result of more than a hundred filming days spread over three years and four trips to three continents, offer a unique behind-the-scenes look at the Institute. The documentary brings to light the pressures that global health is currently under and how important ITM’s role is in addressing these challenges - today more than ever. Besides the science itself, viewers get to know the people behind it and the solid and valuable cooperations between ITM and its international partners. ‘Besmet’ appeared in December on the Flemish public television network, Canvas.  

Key figures

Our financials
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Profit & loss
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Balance sheet
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ITM in numbers

Reference labs
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Organogram
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Our figures
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Take a tour at ITM