By Dr Kate Thomas

Karibu Zoonoses LabThe One Health concept recognises that human health is connected to the health of animals and the environment. Some human and animal pathogens are better known than others and often, in low-income settings, bacterial zoonoses are neglected as causative agents of disease. The intrinsic nature of how livestock is linked to livelihoods in the northern Tanzanian setting qualifies Moshi as a great place to have the facilities necessary to investigate zoonotic organisms.

Based at Kilimanjaro Clinical Research Institute (KCRI) Biotechnology Laboratory on the Kilimanjaro Christian Medical Centre (KCMC) campus, I had been charged with getting the newly founded Zoonoses Laboratory up and running for the three ZELS-funded projects and the linked projects that comprise Livestock, Livelihoods and Health. I’m a relative latecomer to what is the product of many person hours of discussion and teamwork. However, KCRI can now – after numerous months of collaborative work – boast that it has a dedicated microbiology laboratory for testing animal samples.

The Zoonoses Lab has been kitted out with some older equipment (salvaged from early retirement) and some brand-spanking new equipment (thanks largely to the linked project on molecular diagnostics for One Health funded by a Leverhulme-Royal Society Africa Award). We’ve also added an extra few metres of bench space to increase the capacity of the laboratory and allow us to physically separate lab tasks, minimising contamination risks.

So, all in all, we are pretty well set up to get started – analysing samples for bacterial pathogens of interest, extracting DNA from samples and bacterial isolates, and performing enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) tests on sera from blood.

Laboratory work in Tanzania doesn’t come without its challenges. Firstly, most microbiological supplies are not readily available locally, or even nationally. Shipment of reagents and consumables is expensive and can take several weeks from order placement to delivery. Customs clearances add their own delays to delivery.

Secondly, service engineers are pretty scarce in East Africa, making equipment repair and maintenance costly and often a prolonged process.

Thirdly, a reliable power supply is important for laboratories and KCRI is trying to minimise electricity loss. Generators kick in if the mains power goes – although the on-off nature of power is harmful in the long-term for laboratory equipment.

Another aspect of power inconsistencies was made all too clear to me just last week when the biometrics system at KCRI didn’t take too kindly to a rapid succession of power cuts. The system malfunctioned, locking me in the office and others in labs throughout the building. Thankfully the engineer required for escape was not one that had to be called from another town (or country) and we were all safely released from captivity.

Our progress so far has us quietly confident that samples from the field teams will soon be able to be received and processed – beginning the laboratory side of the goals of the LLH project Hazards Associated with Zoonoses in Emerging Livestock meat pathways (HAZEL). Looking at where in the food chain people are being exposed to zoonotic pathogens will give us better information about animal reservoirs, sources and levels of contamination. Results from this will help focus contributions to improved food safety policy aimed at reducing exposure of people to food-borne bacterial zoonoses in Tanzania.

Dr Kate Thomas is a post-doctoral researcher with the meat risks project of LLH.

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