Tuesday, September 15, 2009

URT conquer Mt. Meru 4,562.13m

We made it! After setting off at 1am and climbing through the night we reached the summit as the sun rose over Mt Kilimanjaro. It was sensational.

Now on the bus to Dar es Salaam after fond farewells to our new friends at VetAid. We are meeting with Dr Kivaria at the Ministry of Livestock tomorrow to demonstrate the Android.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Chicken run in Arusha

Our 'luxury' bus finally rolled into Arusha after 10hours on the road. Paul and Zuberry from VetAid had heroically waited at the station for us and got us settled in some accommodation before bed.

The next day Caz and Lizzy woke up to a man outside their door selling paintings, but it wasn't long before our ride escorted us to the VetAid office where we received a warm welcome. We introduced ourselves and our Zanzibar project before demonstrating the phone, generating much excitement; so much so that a repeat performance to the Veterinary Investigation Centre (VIC) staff was waranted. Plans were made for the next day and we were moved to a slightly more respectable hotel without stretching our budget.

In th afternoon we headed into Arusha to hunt for means of safari/trecking and after much debate and negotiation landed on a trustworthy company operating at our hotel, with a view to climbing Mt Meru (Kilimanjaro's little brother) over the weekend.

This morning we were up early to see some of VetAid's work first hand vaccinating poultry against Newcastle Disease (ND). ND is a large problem across Tanzania, not only because it kills many birds, particularly in smallholder farms, but also because many of its symptoms are shared with Avian Influenza. Therefore the concern is that bird flu could arrive undetected behind an assumption of ND. Fortunately an effective, affordable and heat stable vaccine has been developed (I2 vaccine) which is administered as a single eye drop every 3 months - perfect! We off-roaded to a farm set in stunning surroundings at the foot of Mt Meru which hatched and reared cross breed chickens for meat and egg production. We arrived to see 700 birds in the barns, all needing their preciouse eye drops before they could return to their free range lifestyle. We quickly adapted our 'poultry handling best practice' taught at college to whatever worked and were soon well into the swing of things. Occasionally a nimble chicken would slip the net and charge into its vaccinated comrades - leading to some hillariouse chicken chasing. It was great to see the kind of work VetAid are doing and to get hands on with the animals - the farmers were all so welcoming to us.

Once the job was done we traveled back to Arusha to meet Dr Lynen, one of the leading experts in East Coast Fever vaccination and now heavily involved in its distribution in Tanzania. We had a very useful discussion about the current situation of ECF in Tanzania and got a very positive reaction to the mobile technology, which she thought could be particularly useful in keeping records of vaccination and check-ups.

This evening we had a local dinner down the road for about 50p and packed our bags ready for an early start to begin our ascent of Mt Meru.

Wish us luck!


Wednesday, September 9, 2009

URT travelling contingent visits Morogoro

Caz, Lizzy, Tom and I have left 'the little ones' and made the leap into the next phase of our URT adventure, with our first port of call at Sokoine University of Aggriculture.

On Sunday we caught the first ferry from Stone Town and waved goodbye to our fasting island home. After a choppy crossing and a few pale faces we were relieved to get back on solid Dar es Salaam turf. Almost immediately it felt like we had crossed into another country (Zanzibar only united with Tanganyika in 1964). We caught a taxi to the out of town Ubungo Bus Station where we learnt an important lesson in purchasing bus tickets - ask an African what they paid before parting with cash!! Never the less we were on our way to Morogoro.

After 3 hours the stunning Ulugru Mountains announced our approach to the city. Thankfully Mr Onesmo from the university met us at the busy bus terminal and had arranged us a smart, but affordable place to stay. We dropped off our mamouth rucksacks before heading to the campus where we met with two fellowship students over dinner, Clement from Tanzania and Angie from the US, who are both studying epidemiology of infectious disease for the next year.

The next day we met with Angie, Clement and Onesmo at Sokoine and were intoduced to Professor Kimera and Dr Esron to present our project and demonstrate the Google phone technology that we have been using in Zanzibar. Both were very well received and we had an interesting discussion about the proposed role of the technology in public health and the early detection of disease outbreaks in the future, for which funding is currently being sought. Prof Kimera explained the big problem of retrieving information from remote areas of the country, which means outbreaks of infectious disease are often dealt with in isolation. We also learnt about the idea that human and animal health overlap in many areas and are now being addressed as 'One Health'. It is hoped that mobile technology will improve the collection of data and so better inform governments of disease status in their county and allow them to react appropriately.

We were introduced to more members of the faculty as Dr Esron gave us a tour of the campus and veterinary hospital, which drew a surprising number of parallels with our college in London.

A deliciouse dinner and a taste of Tanzania's own national drink 'konyagi' before retiring home rounded off a fantastic few days. We would like to extend a huge thank you to everyone at Sokoine for their hospitality and kindness.

We are now on the 7 hour bus journey to Arusha, where we look forward to meeting with the team at VetAid.


Thursday, September 3, 2009

Parting is such sweet sorrow...

Well today is the day, the project is complete and Fran and I are taking our precious samples back to england.  Were waiting at the ferry point now for a ferry that was supposed to leave at 7 am and leaves instead at 9:30am.  Its pretty typical of the pole pole (slowly slowly) experience that we have had here.  Luckily our flight doesn't leave until this afternoon so it just means a bit more time on the island.
Fran and I are both beyond excitement about going home, not because we have had anything less than an awesome time here, but we both have loved ones who missand need us and vice versa.
Tom, Andy, Caz, and Lizzy are staying in Tanzania and have quite an adventure planned from climbing mount Meru to visiting Sokoine University and being tech ambassadors.
Will, Siobhan, and Hatch are staying on our beloved island and having some much deserved rest and relaxation on the beaches of Kendwa.

Its been one hell of an experience overall, a lot more challenges and arguments than any of us expected, but these were far outnumbered by amazing experiences and shared laughs. 
The work is not done yet by any stretch of the imagination, we still have slides to stain, PCR to run and papers to write, but likely most of the surprises and curveballs are over.  But after the team finishes their adventures in the upcoming weeks we will get back to it and get our data and results back to the staff here who are eagerly awaiting it.


Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Final day fun

So, our fieldwork is done. Complete. At an end. Finished...

The team headed out this morning for our last day sampling with a heady mix of relief, satisfaction, excitement and sadness. Things have been tough out in the unforgiving Zanzibarian agricultural environment - a stark contrast to the beach based luxury the island is famous for.

Cow wrestling has been common, near misses from well aimed kicks frequent; the lads have sweated profusely in battling to get blood samples (obviously the ladies have glowed throughout); ticks have often attempted to escape up arms or legs but have been foiled by the honed instincts of the team, well, that and screaming hysterically and flapping the offending appendage... to quote "Its been emotional".

Today's time at farms close to our base outside Stone Town in the west of the country was largely uneventful - a fact belieing the day's importance. The well-oiled URT machine purred with efficiency, even managing the additonal challenge of spotting samples directly on to the storage filter papers (which stabilise the DNA and deactivate enzymes etc allowing it to be transported back to Blighty for PCR) in the field, with ease.

The emotions of the day may have got to me in hindsight... having spectacularly failed in attempts to collect ticks from the field despite several designs of my tick catching machine (in truth variants on a towel being dragged through the grass) I was driven to desperate measures. All I'll say is at least the local children and my fellow team members were entertained as I crawled after cows on my hands and knees and then kicked off my shoes, rolled up my trousers and wandered behind now clearly perturbed cows in my socks, in the hope that some ticks would mistake me for a bovine home and attach. No such luck (note to Andy Gibson please don't post it on Facebook).

The team is set to present its initial findings to the Director of Livestock Development tomorrow morning. We are donating supplies and will be giving some gifts provided by the RVC as a small token of our thanks to those who have helped us so much here. Then its the sad moment for the team to split with some members heading home and others remaining in Africa to enjoy a couple of weeks holidaying.

When we return, the work continues - PCRs don't run themselves, data doesn't perform its own stats tests (sorry Dad you'll be getting the usual call for help!) and reports don't appear out of thin air. Short of attempting Substitutiary Locomotion a la Bedknobs and Broomsticks (how did thay spell go... "treguna mekoides and tracorum satis dee"...) there's no escaping that there's a lot of hours still to be put in!

I guess we've nursed the research project through its conception, birth, the sleepness nights of teething tears, toddler-dom and primary school but now must face the teenage years before our efforts are rewarded with a well-rounded, eloquent, informative and useful adult of a project.


Final day fun

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Hottest Day on the Island

Today felt like the hottest day so far as the team set out to sample farms from the western district of Zanzibar.  The day started with the group stopping off at a developing milk collecting centre where the hope is a dairy processing unit will eventually be set up.  As with previous days the group divided into two teams to sample a total of 30 cows.  Today we gave Dr Waridi the opportunity to fine tune his skills using the ODK technology on the phones to store clinical information about each cow... he picked it up really quickly and was soon moving through it quicker than us!
On return to the lab (and the shade) the team sorted through the days samples while Siobhan and Tom had the opportunity to attend to the neutering clinic where they had 3 patients.
For the afternoon we were invited to a primary school set up and run through a Canadian charity.  On arrival we were greeted by the children performing a song before being given a tour of the school which is still in the process of being built.  The school is aiming to set up its own dairy processing unit which will hopefully make them independent of western funding.  We were kindly cooked a lovely dinner and had the opportunity to share information we had gained through our experiences with farmers on the island.  Our visit ended with us presenting the school with rugby balls donated by West Suffolk College and the Rugby Football Union... there was even time for a quick play where the young children gave us a run for our money!  More information about the school can be found at www.allnationsacademy.schools.officelive.com.