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Health

Britain to Send Maggots to Warzones to Save Life and Limbs

Why Global Citizens Should Care
Five billion people do not have access to safe, affordable surgical and anaesthesia care when needed, according to research from the Lancet Commission. Low-cost innovations such as maggot therapy could bring vital healthcare to the world’s poorest regions and people in conflict zones. Take action hereto insist that everyone deserves quality healthcare, regardless of where they’re born.

The UK government is funding an international aid project that includes the distribution of maggots to treat infected wounds in regions suffering war and humanitarian crisis, such as Yemen and South Sudan. 

It means that immediate surgical intervention or antibiotics aren’t required — instead, larvae from the green bottle fly eat up dead tissue and clean infections through antimicrobial secretions.

Conflict zones and humanitarian crises often lack medical supplies and cannot cope with demand, so “maggot therapy” could provide a low-cost solution to life and limb-threatening infections.

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Britain spends 0.7% of its gross national income (GNI) on UK aid — the budget used to help the 736 million people around the globe who live in extreme poverty. In 2017, that equated to just over £14 billion.

And the Department for International Development (DfID) is all about investing in “pioneering” projects that aims to find value for money when helping the world’s most vulnerable people.

“People living through conflict and humanitarian crisis are still dying from wounds that could so easily be healed with the right access to care,” said Penny Mordaunt, international development secretary.

“This innovative update on a simple treatment used in the First World War trenches is already saving lives and has the potential to save so many more.”

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According to ABC News, maggot therapy also has a history in traditional indigenous medicine for the insects’ ability to sterilise an open wound. 

"They remove bacteria by eating them and digesting them, and through their excretions and secretions that they place into the wound — so they have antimicrobial properties," said Dr Frank Stadler, a research fellow at Griffith University in Australia, the research body behind the project.

"This controls the infection sufficiently for the body to heal the wound."

In September 2018, Stadler’s project was recommended for a $250,000 (£195,000) funding grant as part of the Humanitarian Grand Challenge, a joint venture with governments from the UK, US and Netherlands to invest in fresh innovations for use in war zones and humanitarian crises. 

Stadler said his research team use wild maggots to establish a fly colony in the laboratory, before harvesting them in a sterile way for direct application on wounds.

The maggots can be used to treat anything from gunshot wounds to burns and bedsores, and are left on an injury — either directly or in a biobag — for two to four days.

Stadler’s team hope to develop “do-it-yourself” labs that could allow isolated communities to safely produce their own medicinal maggots, which could then treat up to 250 wounds a day.

The containment labs are estimated to cost around $100,000 (£57,000) each.

“If you consider the surgical cost of field operations and the shipment of antibiotics, then over time this one-off cost would more than pay for itself,” said Stadler.

Besides being cheaper, the innovative maggot therapy could prevent infections worsening to limbs requiring amputation.

“Making people healthy so that they can remain productive members of their community is sometimes almost more important than saving a life," Stadler told the Telegraph.

“When a father becomes disabled, he can no longer look after his family. When a child becomes disabled, they place an enormous burden on their family,” he added.

Maggot therapy is currently available on the National Health Service (NHS) in the UK, and is particularly effective for treating ulcers.

“I am proud that through the Humanitarian Grand Challenge, and with the support of USAID, UK aid is nurturing pioneering ideas that will allow us to deliver aid more effectively now and in the future,” Mordaunt added. 

In November 2018, the MailOnline reported on former council worker and diabetic Michael Rodgers, 64, whose left leg was saved from amputation by maggot therapy.

Rodgers, from Swansea, had already lost his right leg in 2015 as a result of diabetic complications. He then developed a 10x14cm wound on the sole of his left foot, and turned to,maggot therapy in April last year.

“I owe those little fellas a lot. The doctors tried various things that hadn't worked, trying to get rid of the dead and infected tissue in my foot,” Rodgers said. “So, when they suggested to me the maggots, without hesitation I said, ‘bring it on!’” 

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“No matter how grisly something might seem, if it can help get you out of trouble then it has to be worth it,” he added.

Speaking to the Express in 2017, Ros Thomas, deputy head of podiatry at the Diabetes Centre in Abertawe Bro Morgannwg University Health Board, said that maggots were sometimes more effective than surgical tools in treating diabetic ulcers.

"The maggots can wriggle into the nooks and crannies that a scalpel cannot get at," Thomas said.