The University of Energy and Natural Resources (UENR) has graduated its first PhD student, Mr. Kenneth Bentum Otabil.
Mr Otabil graduated with a Doctor of Philosophy in Environmental Engineering Management at the 1st Special Congregation held in Sunyani. The university also conferred Masters Degrees on nine others. Mr Bentum appreciated the support of management and staff of the university which led to achieving his goal.
Earlier in September, 2019, Mr Otabil successfully defended his thesis which forms part of the university’s requirements for students studying various postgraduate programmes.
Giving the background on his thesis; “Optimising the Esperanza Window Trap to Monitor the Transmission Dynamics of River Blindness in Hypo Endemic Communities,” Mr. Bentum said according to the World Health Organisation and CDC in 2019, river blindness was the world’s second-largest infectious cause of blindness after Trachoma, which caused by the nematode Onchocerca volvulus and transmitted by black flies of the genus Simulium.
He said that the disease was endemic in about 37 countries, and 126 million people were at risk, and that globally, 37 million people get infected, 500,000 visually impaired, and 270,000 get blind, with 1.5 million Disability Adjusted Life Years lost annually, and 99% of the burden of the disease rests on sub-Saharan Africa.
Mr. Bentum referred to Osei-Atweneboana et al. (2007) and the Ghana Health Service (2008), that River Blindness in Ghana is still a public health concern after decades of control, indicating that a population of 4.7 million in 3,204 communities was at risk of getting infected.
Additionally, he noted that there are 85 endemic districts in 15 out of the 16 regions in Ghana, and 247 hyperendemic communities (Special Intervention Zones).
On the research problem, Mr. Bentum stated that river blindness has been earmarked for elimination by 2040, but new monitoring tools are needed.
He said other research literature have indicated that currently, there was inadequate monitoring of control programmes in the wake of ivermectin resistance, no option aside human baits for the capture of vectors for disease monitoring (ethical concerns), inadequate numbers of black flies caught when human baits were used in areas of low vector densities, and inadequate models to check for the effect of climate change on river blindness transmission.
He further said that the rationale for his research was to “address the need for regular monitoring of the burden of Onchocerciasis in the wake of Ivermectin resistance, an efficient trap to replace human baits in trapping black fly vectors,” saying that the Esperanza Window Traps (EWTs) was promising but needs optimisation in design, applicability, cost-effectiveness and reproducibility.
Mr Bentum added that there wass the need for models to relate trap data to data from human baits in order to make them useful in control programmes, stating that “few published works had reported on the ability of traps to monitor the transmission indices of Onchocerciasis, with lack of models establishing the relationship between climatic variables and transmission indices of Onchocerciasis, according to Hendy et al., 2017.”
According to Mr. Bentum, he adopted a cross-sectional design as the methodology of his study, using three communities (Tanfiano, Senya and Kokompe) in the Nkoranza North District of Ghana.
The population was randomly sampled by selecting 114 people for the study, and were examined for the presence of parasites and clinical manifestations of Onchocerciasis.
Mr. Bentum said his study showed that river blindness persisted in the human population of the study areas despite several years of mass drug administration, with ivermectin, infection with Onchocerciasis and commonly associated clinical manifestations of the disease in the study communities.
He recommended that “this finding calls for a greater urgency for research and development, aimed at discovering new or repurposed anti-filarial agents that will augment ivermectin if global onchocerciasis eradication targets are to be achieved.”