Special Interview:

The Importance of International Communication Recognized
While Working at WHO

Kouichi Morita

I mainly study tropical diseases which are transmitted by arthropod such as mosquitos and ticks. My mission as a researcher is to find out how viruses like dengue fever, dengue hemorrhagic fever, West Nile fever, yellow fever and Japanese encephalitis are spread, what kind of diagnostic agent or vaccine to develop, and ultimately how to provide these so as to rapidly contain an infectious disease.

Since 2011, I have also been engaged in field work in Kenya through the research program Science and Technology Research Partnership for Sustainable Development (SATREPS) of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) and the Japan Science and Technology Agency (JST). The theme of the Kenya research is developing a kit for early detection of infectious disease and building a rapid response system using the mobile telephone network to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. The aim is to develop a kit to cheaply and quickly diagnose infectious diseases such as yellow fever and Rift Valley fever, so that infectious diseases can be detected even at small rural medical facilities and damage held to a minimum by rapid response.

Kouichi Morita

I first thought of pursuing this field because of a guidebook I read at the time of college entrance exams. I knew that Nagasaki University had the Institute of Tropical Medicine, and I chose it just with the sense of “oh, that seems interesting”. But when I saw that diseases like dengue fever and dengue hemorrhagic fever are rampant around the world, infecting more than 20 million people every year, I became aware of the global importance of efforts in this field, and made it my life’s work.

That idea was further strengthened by my experience with avian flu control when I was at the World Health Organization (WHO). I was on an assignment to WHO from 1995 to 1998, just when human infection with avian flu (H5N1) broke out in Hong Kong. Emerging infectious diseases such as avian flu spread rapidly without regard for national borders. They cannot be contained by a single country, and their spread must be prevented with the leadership of international organizations. At WHO I cooperated with officials from all countries and formed a multinational team which conducted a 2-week survey at the scene. We then proposed specific measures at areas that we thought were keys to containment, such as markets and chicken farms, and engaged in international cooperation.

My experience at that time made me aware that in controlling tropical and emerging infectious diseases, not only knowledge of the virus, but also the ability for experts to communicate across national boundaries is important. When my assignment at WHO was finished and I returned to Nagasaki University, I turned it into a concrete program, and strive to develop the next generation of leaders in the fight against tropical diseases.

Look out beyond the laboratory

Kouichi Morita

If they aspire to be leaders who are active internationally in the field of tropical and infectious diseases, students cannot just stay in the laboratory. I think it is important to go and meet the people who are troubled by tropical and infectious diseases and the people who actively tackle the issue there, and to consider what they need from us. It is said that young people in Japan have a growing tendency to be inward-looking, but if a student has genuine curiosity about new things, he or she should naturally look to the outside world and not just within this country.

Research is interesting for the challenge of something not understood, is beneficial to society, and just repeating what is already known is meaningless. In research on tropical and infectious diseases as well, I think there is value in maintaining interest or curiosity about the unknown, and carrying through an investigation. In order to arouse students’ curiosity, I would like to set up a program for them to visit regions troubled by tropical and infectious diseases to consider the problems themselves, to nurture people who maintain curiosity.

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  • Efforts in Tropical and Emwerging Communicable Disease Research
  • Special Interview: 'Nagasaki University Researchers'
  • Overseas Infectious Disease Research Centers
  • Global Nagasaki University
  • Links to Related Organizations
  • Nagasaki Universitry
  • The Institute of Tropical Medicine
  • Global COE Program
  • 21st Century COE Program