Newsletter February 2011

ICRH Belgium Newsletter

 2nd of February?, 2011



Dr. Hans Verstraelen wins the Andreas De Leenheer Award
ICRH Belgium collaborator Dr. Hans Verstraelen received the Prof. Andreas De Leenheer Award for his advanced research on vaginal flora and bacterial vaginosis.
The prestigious biennial Prof. Andreas De Leenheer Award is granted by the International Club of Flanders to young post doctoral researchers,  as an incentive for stimulating their further research careers.
The selection committee, presided by prof. dr. De Leenheer in person, motivated its decision by pointing at the significant scientific output of our colleague Hans, with 50 A1 publications and over 30 communications at international conferences.  The award ceremony took place in Ghent, on 14 December 2010.
More information and congratulations:



ICRH Belgium lectures
ICRH Belgium organizes a series of lectures on ‘Reproductive health in global perspective’.
The lectures are aimed at a broad target audience of students, researchers, people from NGOs and policy makers. Dates and themes are:
March 2: Reproductive Health in Global Perspective
March 9: Reproductive Health in Humanitarian Settings
March 30: HPV and Cervical Cancer
May 2: Ethical dilemma’s in the attitude of health workers towards harmful cultural practices
May 11: The effectiveness of HIV prevention
All lectures will take place in Ghent and will be held in Dutch.
A detailed program will be sent to all ICRH Belgium Newsletter subscribers.
More information:

Dr. France Donnay visits ICRH Belgium
On December 21, 2010, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Senior Program Officer Dr. France Donnay held a lecture at ICRH.
Dr France Donnay is Senior Program officer at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Before, she was the UNFPA representative in Pakistan, leading an office of 50+ staff at federal, provincial and district levels to support the government of Pakistan in the areas of maternal and newborn health, family planning, reproductive commodity security, gender equality, and population policies.  ICRH Belgium invited her to give a lecture in Ghent University Hospital on ”The Maternal and Neonatal/Child Health strategy of the B&M Gates Foundation with a focus on the maternal health portfolio”. The lecture, which was attended by medical staff and researchers in the field of sexual and reproductive health and rights, was followed by a discussion on priorities and approaches in tackling  global maternal health.
More information:



Olivier Degomme
Dr. Olivier Degomme is ICRH Belgium’s new Scienctific Director.
Olivier obtained a medical degree at Ghent University in 2004. He subsequently obtained a Master's in Public Health from the Universit√© catholique de Louvain (UCL) and started working at the Centre for Research on the Epidemiology of Disasters (CRED) based at the UCL. He was in charge of the centre's conflict research team whose main activity was the creation and maintenance of the Complex Emergency Database. This project consisted of a metadata repository of health and nutrition surveys conducted in areas affected by armed conflicts. In addition, he was involved in several projects investigating health and mortality among conflict affected populations for which he conducted research in several countries including Sudan, Ghana, Thailand. He recently completed his PhD in health sciences on mortality patterns in the Darfur conflict between 2003 and 2008. His special interests are epidemiological methods and techniques, international public health and health in humanitarian settings. As ICRH Belgium’s Scientific Director, Oliver succeeds dr. Stanley Luchters, who is still connected to ICRH/Ghent University as a visiting professor.
More information:

Marleen Bosmans leaves ICRH
After having worked for ICRH for more than ten years, Marleen Bosmans is now moving on to the Belgian Development Agency.
Marleen started at ICRH in 2000, after having worked for almost two decades on human rights,  gender and strengthening civil society in Latin America and the Carribean. During the past 10 years, she has worked as an ICRH research staff member on many projects, most of them in the field of policy support research for the Belgian development cooperation. Driven by her passion for training and education, Marleen has not only animated numerous training sessions, but she also lies at the basis of the well-reputed  International Training course on ‘Coordination of Multi-sectoral Response to GBV in Humanitarian Settings’, which is organized annually in Ghent in collaboration with UNFPA. In addition to her research and training work, Marleen has also represented ICRH and advocated sexual and reproductive health and rights at all kinds of national and international platforms. Through all this work, Marleen has contributed greatly to the development of ICRH, and we are most grateful for that.
From December 2010 on, Marleen has taken up a new and challenging job as HIV/AIDS Expert at the Belgian Development Agency. She is still attached to ICRH, though, as  a PhD student on reproductive right in conflict affected areas.
More information:

Rita Verhelst
Rita Verhelst works as a postdoc researcher on biomarkers and vaginal probiotics.
Rita Verhelst holds a Masters Degree in Biotechnology and a PhD in Biomedical Sciences from the University of Ghent. She started her professional career in the field of HIV drug resistance testing at the AIDS reference lab (Ghent University). In 1997 she joined Innogenetics where she participated in the development of an HIV drug resistance assay. In 2000 Rita joined the Laboratory of Bacteriology Research at the University of Ghent where she was involved in several research projects on the characterization of the vaginal microflora. At ICRH she will be involved in an EDCTP sponsored study ‘Characterisation of novel microbicide safety biomarkers in East and South Africa’ and an FWO project on vaginal probiotics. Rita's specialties are in the field of molecular medical microbiology, characterisation of complex microflora by culture and DNA-based methods and vaginal ecology.
More information:

Heleen Vermandere
Heleen Vermandere took up a PhD scholarship at ICRH.
After obtaining a master degree in biomedical sciences at Ghent University, Heleen enrolled in a complementary course of Food Science and Nutrition. Triggered by what she had learned she started working for the Centre for Evaluation Research and Surveys of the National Institute of Public Health in Mexico. Initially she conducted a literature review about delivery and utilization of the Oportunidades programme, Mexico’s key development programme, but she got soon involved in various other projects such as an impact evaluation of the national pay-for-performance programme of Rwanda and a screening and prevention programme in the prisons of Mexico City. During this period (2006-2009) Heleen developed a special interest in behavioural and epidemiological studies with regard to STI prevention, detection and treatment. This led to a PhD at ICRH during which Heleen will focus her research on the acceptability of the HPV vaccine in Kenya.

Bavo Verpoest
Bavo Verpoest joined ICRH-Belgium as a volunteer.
Bavo Verpoest obtained a Masters degree in Modern History (i.e. History from the 15th to the 18th century). During this time he became interested in “occult phenomena” in general. On three separate occasions he studied the way society dealt with so-called witches (‘sorciers’) in protestant regions like the Republic of the Seven United Provinces and in the Swiss city of Geneva, during the 16th and 17th century. In January 2010 he completed an additional Masters course in International Relations an Diplomacy, defending his thesis on ‘the Nuclear Taboo in US policy’.
Since November 2010, Bavo works with different research groups at ICRH, providing supporting services to make their tasks more comfortable. Considering the above mentioned, his interests are most connected with the work of our Gender-Based Violence Team. Here he can find appealing topics to work on. For example the place of witchcraft in African societies or the historical grounds of FGM.
More information:

Katherine Muylaert
Katherine Muylaert joined ICRH Belgium as the new administrative project manager.
Katherine Muylaert obtained a master degree in economical sciences, specializing in marketing management. She worked in private companies (General Motors, De Persgroep, Dreamland) for 10 years before making a switch towards the humanitarian world, as an administrative financial field responsible for Doctors without Borders. In a period of 2 years she did missions in Antwerp (access to health care for people who are excluded from regular health care systems), Ivory Coast (nutritional emergency), Congo (logistic and security supporting unit for projects in the Northern Kivu region), Thailand (post-tsunami project for Burma  refugees), Guinea (HIV projects) and Haiti (earthquake emergency).
She will take on the administrative follow-up of several projects.
More information:

Prof. Dr. Marleen Temmerman ‘Person of the Year’
The editorial board of the  Flemish Region’s newsletter ‘Flanders Today’ has identified ICRH director Prof.  Marleen Temmerman as ‘Person of the Year 2010’.
In its motivation, the editorial board refers to professor Temmerman’s work with ICRH, but also to the prestigious BMJ Life Time Achievement  award and to the publication of the book ‘Vrouwen onder Druk (‘Women under Pressure’) that she has co-authored with ICRH’s Gender Based Violence team leader and FOHCUS coordinator Dr. Els Leye.




Meta-analysis on the relation between bacterial vaginosis and HPV infection
The objective of this meta-analysis was to clarify and summarize published literature on the extent to which BV is associated with cervical HPV infection.
Bacterial vaginosis (BV), an alteration of vaginal flora involving a decrease in Lactobacilli and predominance of anaerobic bacteria, is among the most common cause of vaginal complaints for women of childbearing age. It is well known that BV has an influence in acquisition of certain genital infections. However, association between BV and cervical human papillomavirus (HPV) infection has been inconsistent among studies.
Medline and Web of Science were systematically searched for eligible publications until December 2009. Articles were selected based on inclusion and exclusion criteria. After testing heterogeneity of studies, meta-analysis was performed using a random effect model.
Twelve eligible studies were selected to review the association between BV and HPV, including a total of 6,372 women. The pooled prevalence of BV was 32%. The overall estimated odds ratio (OR) showed a positive association between BV and cervical HPV infection (OR, 1.43; 95% confidence interval, 1.11-1.84). The authors conclude that there is a positive association between BV and uterine cervical HPV infection.
More information:
Bacterial vaginosis is associated with uterine cervical human papillomavirus infection: a meta-analysis. Gillet E, Meys JF, Verstraelen H, Bosire C, De Sutter P, Temmerman M, Vanden Broeck D
BMC Infectious Diseases 2011, 11:10 (11 January 2011)

A Qualitative study on Breastfeeding in Mozambique
Only 37% of infants younger than 6 months in Mozambique are exclusively breastfed. A qualitative assessment was undertaken to identify the knowledge, beliefs, and practices around exclusive breastfeeding and to identify the support networks.
Results show many barriers. In addition to receiving breast milk, infants receive water, traditional medicines, and porridges before 6 months of age. Many mothers had heard of the recommendation to exclusively breastfeed for 6 months. However, other family decision makers had heard less about exclusive breastfeeding, and many expressed doubts about its feasibility. Some of them expressed willingness to support exclusive breastfeeding if they were informed by health workers. Nurses know the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding and pass this information on verbally but have insufficient counseling skills. Interventions to improve exclusive breastfeeding should target family and community members and include training of health workers in counseling to resolve breastfeeding problems.
The online version can be found at:
More information:
Knowledge, Beliefs, and Practices Regarding Exclusive Breastfeeding of Infants Younger Than 6 Months in Mozambique: A Qualitative Study. Arts M, Geelhoed D, De Schacht C, Prosser W, Alons C, Pedro A. J Hum Lact. 2010 Dec 22. [Epub ahead of print]

Reducing HIV risk of breastfeeding with three-drug prophylaxis
The risk of transmitting HIV to infants during breastfeeding can be halved with a triple-drug regimen taken by mothers. This is the conclusion of an article by the Kesho Bora Team, published in Lancet Infectious Diseases.
Breastfeeding is vital for child health and development in low-resource settings, but infants born to HIV-positive mothers can be infected through breastfeeding. So a team of researchers from the World Health Organization (WHO) and five study sites in Burkina Faso, Kenya, and South Africa conducted a randomized, controlled trial to investigate whether three antiretroviral (ARV) drugs taken together by women during pregnancy and breastfeeding are more effective than the standard regimen used to prevent mother-to-child HIV transmission in these countries.
The Kesho Bora Study (meaning “a better future” in Swahili) enrolled HIV-positive pregnant women and assigned them randomly to take either triple antiretroviral prophylaxis in late pregnancy and during breastfeeding, or the standard recommended regimen at the time. All infants received recommended drugs at and after birth.
The cumulative rate of HIV transmission at 12 months of age was 43% lower with the triple-drug regimen compared with the standard regimen. The cumulative rate of infant HIV infection at age 6 weeks was not significantly different between the groups, but the risk of transmission during breastfeeding was 53% lower in the triple-drug group. The greatest reduction was among the infants of women with CD4 cell counts 200-350 cells/mm3.
The Kesho Bora investigators also report that the three-drug regimen and the standard regimen were equally safe - no differences were found in serious adverse events between the groups. The authors conclude that “triple-ARV prophylaxis during pregnancy and continued during breastfeeding is safe and reduces the risk of HIV-1 transmission to infants”.
WHO guidelines were strongly influenced by the preliminary results of the Kesho Bora study - the revised WHO guidelines now recommend long-term treatment for all women with CD4 cell counts below 350 cells/mm3 and ARV prophylaxis (either to the mother or to the child) for the whole period of breastfeeding if the mother is not already receiving ARV treatment for her own health.
The article can be downloaded at
More information:
Triple antiretroviral compared with zidovudine and single-dose nevirapine prophylaxis during pregnancy and breastfeeding for prevention of mother-to-child transmission of HIV-1 (Kesho Bora study): a randomised controlled trial. The Kesho Bora Study Group. Lancet Infect Dis. 2011 Jan 13. [Epub ahead of print]PMID: 21237718 [PubMed - as supplied by publisher]

Determinants of unmet need for contraception among Chinese migrants.
Considerable sexual and reproductive health (SRH) challenges have been reported among rural-to-urban migrants in China. Predictors thereof are urgently needed to develop targeted interventions. A cross-sectional study assessed determinants of unmet need for contraception using semi-structured interviews in two cities in China: Guangzhou and Qingdao.
Between July and September 2008, 4867 female rural-to-urban migrants aged 18-29 years participated in the study. Of these, 2264 were married or cohabiting. Among sexually-active women (n?=?2513), unmet need for contraception was reported by 36.8% and 51.2% of respondents in Qingdao and Guangzhou, respectively; it was associated with being unmarried, having no children, less schooling, poor SRH knowledge, working in non-food industry, and not being covered by health insurance. A substantial proportion of unmarried migrants reported they had sexual intercourse (16.6 % in Qingdao and 21.4% in Guangzhou) contrary to current sexual standards in China.  The study emphasizes the importance of improving the response to the needs of rural-to-urban migrants and recommends strategies to address the unmet need for contraception. These should enhance open communication on sexuality, increase the availability of condoms, and improve health insurance coverage.
The article can be downloaded at
More information:
Determinants of unmet need for contraception among Chinese migrants: A worksite-based survey. Decat P, Zhang WH, Moyer E, Cheng Y, Wang ZJ, Lu CY, Wu SZ, Nadisauskiene RJ, Luchters S, Deveugele M, Temmerman M. Eur J Contracept Reprod Health Care. 2011 Feb;16(1):26-35.