Outbreak Research Team

The Institute of Tropical Medicine (ITM) has a rich history of being involved in outbreak investigation, research and response. This stretches from our historical and continued involvement in outbreaks of Ebola and Marburg to more recent work related to cholera and antimicrobial resistance. In a highly interconnected world, it is vital that ITM continues to innovate and develop its outbreak research capacity.
The Outbreak Research Team (ORT) at ITM enhances understanding of what drives the transmission and spread of outbreak-prone diseases, designs and evaluates methods and models for early detection, as well as assesses different outbreak prevention and control intervention strategies. Working primarily in low-resource settings, the ORT has a mission to ‘strengthen the evidence-base for improved outbreak preparedness, response, recovery and resilience through inter-disciplinary applied research’.

The ORT is always on stand-by to do research interventions in outbreaks worldwide. Our eight-member team is composed of the following expertise and experience:

Birgit De Smet (MSc) is a biomedical scientist from the Unit of Tropical Laboratory Medicine at ITM.
Since 2008 she has been involved in laboratory capacity building projects with ITM’s partner institutes focusing on diagnosis of bacterial and viral infections.

Anja De Weggheleire (MD, MPH) is a clinical researcher with experience as clinician, researcher and programme manager in emergencies and long-term projects in Africa, Asia and Central America, working for Médecins Sans Frontières (10 years) and ITM (7 years). She has a keen interest in clinical and diagnostic research aiming to improve quality of care during frequent (e.g. measles, cholera, typhoid fever) and less frequent (hemorrhagic fever) outbreaks.

Dena Javadi (MSPH) is a health systems scientist with experience in design and evaluation of complex health system interventions. She’s worked across a range of countries in topics such as access to medicines, primary care strengthening, evidence-informed decision-making, systems thinking in healthcare design, and health workforce management.

Ginger Johnson (PhD, MPH, LLM) is a medical anthropologist with formative research experience on a range of complex health and humanitarian emergencies from the impact of political violence and war on refugee women and children, to recent disease outbreaks such as Ebola and Zika. She has conducted research in East, West, and Southern Africa, North and South Asia, and in the Middle East and North Africa.

Joachim Mariën (MSc, PhD) is a disease ecologist whose work in the field has been concentrated in Tanzania and Guinea. He has concentrated most of his work on the transmission dynamics of rodent-borne parasites, including Lassa virus, and has a keen interest in zoology, molecular biology and mathematical modelling.

Philippe Selhorst (MSc, PhD) is a medical virologist with an interest in infectious diseases and molecular epidemiology.
He has broad experience in viral culture, next-generation sequencing technologies, and antiviral drug discovery and has successfully led research projects in South Africa focusing on HIV transmission, drug resistance and microbicides.

Wim Van Bortel (MSc, PhD) is a medical entomologist with over 25 years of experience in research of vectors and vector-borne diseases. His research focuses on disentangling the role of arthropod vectors in transmission systems in order to improve vector-borne diseases prevention and control. His studies are primarily done in Africa, Southeast Asia and Belgium.

Florian Vogt (MD, MSc, PhD) is an epidemiologist and medical scientist with particular interest in infectious disease outbreak research, evidence-based humanitarian interventions, and neglected tropical diseases. He has a successful track record of establishing research collaborations and leading field- and desk-based research in humanitarian interventions and international health that cover academia, non-governmental organisations, and international organisations.

In addition to our core ORT members, additional ITM staff may serve as a resource pool to reinforce research activities during an outbreak.

ORT members are supported by an interdepartmental steering committee containing one senior researcher from each department at ITM – Clinical Sciences, Biomedical Sciences and Public Health.

Johan van Griensven (MD, MMed, PhD, MSc) is trained as an internist (KU Leuven) and clinical epidemiologist (LSHTM). Between 2004 and 2014, he was based as clinician and researcher in Africa (including three years with Médecins Sans Frontières) and Asia. He currently heads the Unit of Neglected Tropical Diseases at ITM. He acted as coordinating investigator of the Ebola-Tx Consortium, which conducted a clinical trial on convalescent plasma as treatment for Ebola virus disease in Guinea (

Wim Van Bortel (see above)

Veerle Vanlerberghe (MD, MSc, PhD) is a medical doctor who studied at the University of Ghent. Before joining ITM in 2003, she worked as a medical doctor and coordinator for Médecins Sans Frontières. She works in the Tropical Infectious Disease group in the Department of Public Health, focusing her research on the epidemiology of arboviruses. She teaches in several course components of the Master of Public Health and is a scientific collaborator in development cooperation programs in Democratic Republic of Congo and Cuba.


We can’t do it alone! In order to accomplish the objectives of the ORT, ITM is partnering with the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network (GOARN) and African coaLition for Epidemic Research, Response and Training (ALERRT), in addition to national and international actors involved in outbreak investigations, research and response.

Funding for the Outbreak Research Team is made possible by the support of the Flemish Ministry of Economy, Sciences and Innovation (EWI). EWI is contributing €2,5 million over a three-year period.