Zambia - Malaria Transmission and the Impact of Control Efforts in Southern Africa
The student will assist with a new initiative to accelerate malaria control in Southern Africa through an NIH-funded International Center of Excellence for Malaria Research. Our goal is to make substantial contributions to regional malaria control in Zambia and Zimbabwe through state-of-the-art research on malaria epidemiology, vector biology and the genetics of the malaria parasite in three different epidemiological settings, representing regions of effective malaria control (Choma District, Zambia), ineffective malaria control (Nchelenge District, Zambia) and resurgent malaria (Mutasa District, Zimbabwe).
Having worked for many years in rural Sub-saharan Africa, I felt that I was prepared for the challenges that I would face working on malaria research at the Macha Reseach Trust in rural Southern Zambia. I had already heard a great deal about how rural the study site was, and how difficult transportation to and from it was at times. This became quite evident to me during our journey from Lusaka to Macha. I was incredibly glad that we were traveling by private car, rather than public bus, as the long six plus hour trip, could have easily turned into a much longer trip.
The infrastructure and organization of the study site in Macha far exceeded any of my expectations. The laboratory that houses much of the malaria research, was incredibly well equipped. There were sources of de-ionized water, an uninterrupted power supply with back-up generators, and internet networking capabilities. One of my primary projects would be implementing a new molecular genomics technology and optimizing new assays that would become part of the malaria study protocol. Seeing the high functionality of the laboratory, and the dedication of the laboratory scientists, I felt like this would be accomplished quickly and easily. However, this was not the case.
It became clear very quickly, that we did not have all of the equipment and reagents necessary to implement the technology. While things that we were missing, seemed quite minor, if they were to be missing in a laboratory in the U.S. as they could easily and quickly be procured. However, in Macha, they were very major and it would likely take weeks to months to get them to the study site. Luckily, we have a very creative study team, and we were able to improvise a great deal. One example was fashioning our own plate holders to mount into a centrifuge, since the centrifuge only was able to spin tubes and we needed to spin plates. Also to our advantage, many of the reagents that we needed could be substituted.
Some of these small hurdles, and a few seemingly larger hurdles, associated with implementing new technology in rural Sub-saharan Africa, made the process much longer that I had expected upon my arrival. During the process, I was so appreciative to have such a dedicated colleague in Ben Katowa, the lab scientist who is now running the technology. Many times we were arriving in the lab early, leaving late, and working on the weekends to ensure the proper set-up of the technology. Ben never complained about all of extra work, in fact like most of our colleagues, he really enjoyed the work we were doing for the malaria study. With this hard work, we were successful in getting the technology established and the assay protocols optimized rolled out during my time in Macha, which was a great accomplishment.
When I first arrived after a very long journey in Macha, I knew that I would not be traveling out of Macha very much, mainly due to the logistic difficulties. Other students and visitors traveled every weekend to sight see. After my arrival, I only left the study site twice, both day trips for Visa renewals. I didn’t feel I needed to visit tourist destinations in order to have a rewarding experience. I had to most enjoyment spending time alongside my colleagues in the lab, or exploring the Macha community. I am still working with the study team, and communicate with them on a daily basis. I’m grateful that I was able to work so closely with them over three months, and hope to return soon.