Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates is helping to make Massey University research into Ebola and otherdeadly diseases heard on the world stage.

The university has received a US$50,000 ($70,000) grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to allow an international student programme to be part of an international conference in Melbourne.

For two years, 24 doctors, vets and wildlife experts from Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan and Nepal have been part of a long-distance Massey fellowship researching how infectious diseases are transmitted from animals to humans.

Ultimately, the group is trying to help reduce fatal cross-border diseases such as Ebola, Zika, bird flu and the Sars virus in South Asian nations and around the world.


The Gates foundation - the health and education programme established by the computer pioneer and one of the world's richest men - has distributed more than US$50 billion in research and development grants since it began in 2000.

And now Massey has joined the list of esteemed recipients that includes Harvard, Oxford and Cambridge universities.

Eighteen of Massey's distance students have visited New Zealand, graduating in Palmerston North last month. They presented their findings at a Massey symposium the following week and have flown to Melbourne to feature in a meeting of global experts at the International One Health EcoHealth Congress, which starts today.

Massey programme director Dr Peter Jolly says the scope of the research has huge potential for international health.

"The aim is to inspire and connect these future leaders from countries facing enormous challenges with global leaders, expertise and initiatives, and to provide very timely opportunity for them to gain both distinctive New Zealand and global perspectives," Jolly said.

"Graduates leave with the skills to cope effectively with such interdisciplinary challenges, work together on issues, and ultimately make the world a safer place by spreading the skills they have picked up."

One of the key Massey projects was the work of Bangladeshi Dr Sultan Mahmood, who looked at the Nipah virus, a newly emerging disease hosted by bats.

Dr Sultan Mahmood (right) interviews a farmer about deadly virus Nipah in Bangladesh, part of a Massey University study to be showcased globally thanks to the Bill Gates Foundation. Photo/Supplied
Dr Sultan Mahmood (right) interviews a farmer about deadly virus Nipah in Bangladesh, part of a Massey University study to be showcased globally thanks to the Bill Gates Foundation. Photo/Supplied

There is no vaccine for the virus, which causes severe illness in both animals and humans.

"The Massey programme has broadened my horizon and critical thinking and given me a solid base and theoretical knowledge on outbreak investigation and disease surveillance," Mahmood said.

"The theoretical and behavioural competencies obtained from this programme are helping me to lead and run large projects."

Other researchers include Manisha Bista, who has created a genetic database of individual tigers in all the national parks of Nepal, and Dr Kinley Penjor, who was part of a group who created new disease control guidelines for the Bhutanese Government on scrub typhus, a mite-borne disease which is easily treated, but often fatal if left undiagnosed.

Funds for the students' visit to New Zealand were provided by the European Union and the Massey University Foundation, while grants to attend the One Health congress were provided by the Gates Foundation, Massey University Foundation, the Morris Trust and the USAID Predict programme, which monitors pathogens around the world.

Otago and Auckland universities have both previously received grants from the Gates Foundation, including US$1.3m ($1.8m) to Auckland in 2012 for research into infant and childhood stunting in developing countries.