Arusha lies at the foothills of Mnt Meru, Mnt Kilimanjaro’s little brother, and is the gathering point for many Serengeti safaris and Kilimanjaro excursions. Kilimanjaro is only about 60 km east of Meru, but as the highest free-standing mountain on the African continent, it is seldom seen from here because it is always hidden in the clouds. To catch a glimpse of it you really need to go to Moshi where, if you are lucky, you can see the peak in all its majesty between 4 and 6 pm most days when the clouds, drummed up by the warm Indian ocean, dissipates.
Located on the old highway that runs between Arusha and Moshi is the Nelson Mandela – African Institute of Science and Technology (NM-AIST). It is a small institute with just over 100 graduate students from all over eastern and central Africa to pursue research degrees in the school of Life Sciences and Bio-Engineering, school of Computational and Communication Sciences and Engineering, school of Materials, Energy, Water and Environmental Sciences and the school of Business Studies and Humanities. No undergraduate courses are offered at NM-AIST, allowing it to be dedicated to quality teaching and practical research at a graduate level.
My host for the day on this beautiful little campus was Dr. Beatus Lyimo. I had the fortune of meeting Beatus more than a year ago in Moscow, Idaho. At that time he was completing part of his PhD research at Washington State University (WSU) in Pullman, Washington. His supervisor at WSU was Prof. Doug Call, whom has various active research collaborations in eastern Africa relating to the socioeconomic impact of antimicrobial resistance in the region.
Now, in addition to training students at NM-AIST, Beatus continues to work on understanding how environmental factors contribute to the spread of antibiotic resistance and on the surveillance of pathogenic bacteria and viruses in bush meat. Pathogens in bush meat can cause diseases such as Ebola, anthrax, monkey pox, Marburg- and Q-fever and it is thus an utmost priority to understand where these pathogens occur and how they enter the human population. The bush meat surveillance project is a large international collaboration with the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Nairobi and Penn State University in Pennsylvania, among others.
Included in my visit on campus was a meeting with Prof. Joram Buza, Associate Professor and Dean of Life Sciences and Bio-Engineering. Having worked in the USA for a decade or so, Prof. Buza shares my belief that skilled African scientists should come home after their studies/work abroad to dispense their gained knowledge here and do research relevant to Africa. NM-AIST was established in 2011 only and is still finding its feet when it comes to equipping labs with relevant technologies. However, Prof. Buza proudly informed me that even with their limited capacity they are now bringing in multimillion dollar research grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the UK Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, the UK Government, the US Department of Defense and has been recognized by the World Bank as an African Center of Excellence – truly something to be proud of.
I was also introduced to Gasper Mwanyika, now an employee at Mbeya University but whom recently obtained his Masters degree in Health and Biomedical Sciences at NM-AIST. His thesis focused on the load and antibiotic resistance of the two common indicator organisms, Escherichia coli and Salmonella, in goat meat from local small-scale and large commercial farms around Arusha.
Goat meat is very popular locally and is gaining export demand. Thus, due to the increasing demand as with other types of livestock, antibiotics are commonly used to prophylactically treat these animals. Consequently, Gasper found that resistance to commonly used antibiotics such as ampicillin and amoxicillin was quite prevalent among the indicator organisms found on meat products from large scale operators whereas resistance to tetracycline was more prevalent in the indicator organisms from the meat products of small operators. Fortunately he did not find any resistance to critical antibiotics such as ceftazidine. His first publications related to this study can be found here.
Gasper was not alone in this study though. Other student researchers at NM-AIST were similarly looking at the prevalence of antibiotic resistance among indicator organisms in beef, pork and poultry. If we want to put effective national and international regulation in place to limit the use of antibiotics in agriculture it is imperative that we fully understand the evolution and transmission routes of antibiotic resistance genes from all the different agricultural sectors to humans. This is why studies such as the one completed by Gasper is so important and is what makes him and his collaborators all #ChampionsInAfrica.
Until next time