Addressing Maternal Infections and Their Impact on Child Stunting: A Discussion with Isobel Gabain

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In a thought-provoking Twitter thread on August 9, the UKRI GCRF Action against Stunting Hub engaged in a stimulating conversation with Isobel Gabain, a dedicated PhD scholar working diligently to understand the complex interplay between maternal infections and child stunting. The discussion shed light on the potential consequences of maternal infections during pregnancy and the importance of global collaboration to tackle Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs) and child stunting. Isobel’s work focuses on soil-transmitted helminthiases and schistosomiasis, which can significantly impact a child’s health and development.

Understanding the Impact of Maternal Infections:

Maternal infections during pregnancy can have far-reaching effects on the developing fetus. Isobel Gabain emphasized that such infections may alter fetal immune and microbiome development, potentially affecting in-utero nutrition. This, in turn, places the child at a higher risk of intrauterine growth restriction and low birth weight, both strong predictors for stunting. Furthermore, parasites from these infections can impact the quantity and quality of breast milk, potentially exacerbating the problem.

Tackling the Resource Challenge:

Isobel highlighted the scarcity of funding and resources in the quest to address NTDs and child stunting. Nevertheless, she noted the WHO’s 2021-2030 roadmap for NTD control and elimination, which seeks to increase the number of countries including NTDs in national health care budgets. This initiative also paves the way for new partnerships to tackle NTDs, offering hope for more effective and efficient efforts.

Isobel’s Research:

Isobel’s PhD research elucidates the intricate pathways through which parasites, particularly soil-transmitted helminthiases (e.g., Ascariasis, hookworm, Trichuriasis) and schistosomiasis, contribute to stunting. Her work is a daily exploration into understanding the impact of NTDs on child development.

Research Scope:

The discussion expanded to explore Isobel’s research scope, which spans India, Indonesia, and Senegal. Isobel and her team seek to determine if mothers and babies are infected with soil-transmitted helminthiases, schistosomiasis (in Senegal), and parasitic protozoa during the first 1000 days of life, from conception to two years. They collect and analyze faecal and urine samples to gain critical insights.

Global Collaboration to Address NTDs and Child Stunting:

Isobel emphasized the necessity of an integrated approach to addressing child stunting. The multifaceted nature of this issue necessitates collaboration among different sectors and, crucially, effective communication with policy-makers. An integrated approach can ensure that efforts are well-coordinated and impactful.

Driving Political Will:

Isobel highlighted that significant improvements can be achieved when governments and political leaders prioritize child stunting. This commitment can manifest through nutrition programs, mass drug administration, sanitation, and hygiene interventions. Other nations can learn how to drive the political will needed to combat NTDs and child stunting effectively by looking to exemplary countries that have made substantial progress.


The enlightening Twitter discussion with Isobel Gabain underscores the critical need to address maternal infections, NTDs, and child stunting on a global scale. The conversation emphasizes the power of collaborative efforts, resource mobilization, and political commitment to tackle these intertwined challenges. Isobel’s work is a testament to the dedication and passion needed to make a meaningful impact on the lives of children worldwide. We eagerly anticipate the results of her research as it promises to shed further light on this critical issue.

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1 Comment

  1. R.Swain, FIBMS on 22nd October 2023 at 6:56 pm

    Fascinating work Isobel and Co., I wish you every success. The nutritional impact of NTD’s is staggering, without considering the complexity of their other pathological detriments on those infected, and it is a travesty that more than 170 years since Theodore Bilharz first identified Schistosomiasis that it is still categorised as a NTD.

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