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Cirion Foundation

the impact of infectious diseases

Prof. dr. Eric van Gorp

The strength of Cirion

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Internist and infectious diseases expert Dr. Eric van Gorp is known for his specialized knowledge of (viral) infectious diseases, i.e. HIV and (viral) hemorrhagic fevers like dengue hemorrhagic fever (DHF). In addition to caring for his patients at the Slotervaart hospital in Amsterdam, he carries out scientific research projects at the Erasmus Medical Center in Rotterdam. As a doctor, a scientist and initiator of the Cirion Foundation, he motivates people towards achieving common goals. Van Gorp: “Our objectives are to spread the knowledge of infectious diseases and improve the standard of medical aid, related to preventing or treating them. The Cirion Foundation is initiating the changes that will facilitate that improvement. The rapidly changing epidemiology of infectious diseases and the complex working area of infectious diseases call for a broad and multidisciplinary approach.”  

As a student, Eric van Gorp was fascinated by the mechanisms that create and spread infectious diseases. During his education as an internist, he treated travelers carrying unknown virus infections. Van Gorp: “Compared to bacterial diseases, viral infections are particularly fascinating, mainly because they are so elusive. They mutate, they adapt themselves, and due to the globalization process they now spread around the globe faster than ever. Viral infectious diseases can be difficult to diagnose. Knowing as much as possible about the itinerary of the traveler, for example, can be an essential prerequisite to making an accurate diagnosis. For most of these viruses medication has not been developed. Taking good precautionary measures, such as vaccinations, is often the best option.”

History teaches us that the human race is confronted with a global influenza outbreak every 50 to 60 years. One of these outbreaks was the Spanish flu of 1918, a pandemic that claimed millions of lives. Another example, of course, is HIV. Van Gorp: “We currently live at a time in which the likelihood of a new pandemic is high. At the moment there is realistic concern that the bird flu virus and the human influenza virus will mutate into a new, life-threatening strain. To defend ourselves against future virus threats we must identify the factors that create and spread infectious diseases. And there are a lot of these factors.”

Dr. Van Gorp is a firm believer in the power of science: “Fresh ideas can be implemented quickly, for example, by including new knowledge in schooling programs. In addition to scientific research, education is an important cornerstone of the Cirion Foundation. Prevention will be much more effective if we know how certain infectious diseases emerge and how they are spread. Cirion develops extra training programs for doctors and other medical professionals and for primary school children. The Foundation is bridging the gap between science, society and day-to-day life.”

Improvement through change
This correlation between science, society and day-to-day-life is what underscores the strength of the Cirion Foundation. Van Gorp: “At Cirion we drive improvement through change. Our activities don’t focus exclusively on scientific research; the sustainable enhancement of the local infrastructure is also important. New scientific knowledge can help policy makers in their efforts to react effectively when infectious diseases strike and then to implement the policies that will prevent them spreading. Cirion is stimulating and supporting both field research and fundamental scientific research on several continents. This creates new possibilities to study the course of diseases in populations with different genetic backgrounds. We know some of the external factors that dictate the way infectious diseases emerge and spread. These can include poverty, poor hygiene, ineffective water purification, high mobility and a high degree of urbanization. But we still have no convincing answers to questions like why HIV in Africa more frequently results in heart and vascular disease than it does in Europe. And why the incidence of dengue accompanied by bleeding fever is more prevalent in South America and Asia than it is in Africa. The answers to questions like these can prove to be a matter of life and death in the near future. By initiating resolute activities, the Cirion Foundation wants to make a sustainable contribution to solving such important issues.”