Field research is full of unanticipated opportunities and challenges. Weather, long travel distances, and even large living roadblocks frequently change our plans. HALI researchers studying TB transmission in rural communities were in the field until late Friday evening, so news from Goodluck will be posted early next week. While you’re waiting, we hope you enjoy a close look at local travel conditions!
Have you been wondering what’s happening with the HALI team? Are all of the staff members on a Zanzibar beach vacation? Has research at the human-animal-environment interface been forgotten?
Of course not! Though the beach does sound appealing, we’ve been busy working within and beyond the Ruaha ecosystem. HALI team members have been exploring primate capture and sampling techniques, collecting environmental and livestock specimens to search for TB, and learning how to assess the nutrition of women and children in pastoralist communities. Our posts have been delayed for a bit, but the HALI blog is back in action! We’ve taken the time to reconsider our approach to sharing stories, thoughts, and research updates. We have a wonderful and expanding team of Tanzanian researchers engaged in exciting One Health investigations, and from this point forward, you’ll be hearing their diverse perspectives. The fun starts tomorrow when we’ll be welcoming Dr. Goodluck Paul to the blog stage! Stay tuned for his insights on zoonotic TB and collaborations in the field.
While you’re waiting for tomorrow’s post, stop by our facebook page to see the latest photos from the field and learn the Swahili word of the week!
Field work schedules are heating up, but the temperature at the HALI office is dropping to -196 C with the arrival of our long awaited liquid nitrogen (LN2) generating plant. After tracking its progress from port to port and then overland from Dar es Salaam to Iringa, the HALI team was excited to install Iringa’s first LN2 source this week.
Our team used to travel over 300 km to Mbeya or Dodoma to purchase LN2, but, over the weekend, we produced 200 liters in our office backyard! What does that mean for HALI? It ensures that we can keep our field samples frozen at temperatures that help us to detect pathogens. It also means that we can deliver LN2 to our diagnostic laboratory at Sokoine University of Agriculture for safely storing and transporting samples to our partner lab at Makerere University in Uganda.
Last Saturday afternoon, our Iringa team gathered to learn how to maintain and operate the mysterious new machine. Our fearless trainer, David, walked us through the maze of gauges and wires that lead to LN2 production. From the water chiller to air compressors and the helium release valve, our biologists and economists are all ready to keep the LN2 flowing. Led by our official LN2 plant operators, Erasto and Muhiddin, the future of HALI sample collection in Tanzania is bright, and happily, very cold.
RODENT TRAPPING with PREDICT
5:15 am: The tents are wrapped in darkness and only the beginnings of birdsong when cell phone alarms start echoing through the campsite. Whispering to each other, the HALI team members check off a well-known list…dryshipper, ice packs, cryovials, mobile centrifuge…as they squeeze the supplies into the back of the field car. Headlamps click off and the team is ready to travel the winding dirt road to the farms where their rodent traps are waiting. On the way, they watch the villages waking up – women carrying water, dogs slipping like shadows between the houses, and roosters announcing the morning. Children wave from doorways as the sun starts to spill over the hills.
Rodents of varying shapes and size are already waiting in the traps when the car arrives. The HALI team members waste no time in making a count and moving the traps to the shade. It’s still very early, but the clear sky promises hot hours ahead. By the side of the single large tree, a sampling station springs to life. The table unfolds, data sheets are prepared, and rows of labeled tubes stand ready. Pulling on their PPE (personal protective equipment), the team attracts attention from people passing at a distance and the long line of cows walking to water.
7 am, and the sampling begins. Working carefully to keep the team and animals safe, the rodent handlers collect the blood, feces, and oral swabs that will allow them to look for viruses that can be transmitted from wildlife to humans. Rodents, like the ones being sampled, commonly share the farms and houses of the people living in rural village areas. HALI is investigating the risk of emerging diseases that could be spread in saliva, blood, or droppings from these animals. As changing environments drive people and wildlife into closer contact, the chances for disease transmission increase. Understanding these changes and the pathogens present in these areas helps HALI protect animal and human health.
1 pm, and the sun is baking down. The HALI team has been working tirelessly to carefully anesthetize each animal and collect the key samples before releasing the rodents at the sites where they were captured. A cable drapes out of the hood of the car connecting the battery to an inverter to an electric strip to the mobile centrifuge, where the blood samples are spinning. The whir of the motor and the sight of boxes being lowered into the foggy interior of the dry shipper are drawing the sampling to a close. After the last of the samples are safely stored and everything has been cleaned, the HALI team members climb out of their PPE suits with a sigh of relief, knowing that a lunch of ugali, mchicha (greens), and kuku (chicken) awaits them in a nearby village.
4 pm, and the evening will soon be approaching. After organizing and cleaning their supplies and taking a short, but well-earned break, the HALI team is back in the field, scoping out new sites for trapping near a pastoralist boma. Surrounded by the listening family as well as their cows, goats, and dogs, the team sits down to discuss HALI’s work and to ask permission to trap rodents in the area. With patience and a lot of laughter, the Maasai family listens to the strange request, and then watches curiously from a distance as team members bait the traps with a recently perfected blend of peanut butter and corn flour, and head out to set them. The family is unfailingly welcoming, and when the team members return for sampling the next morning, hot tea and freshly made vitumbua (rice doughnuts) will be waiting for them, along with another round of questions.
7 pm, and the team is heading back to Tungamalenga, the village closest to their campsite. Over a late dinner of wali (rice) and mbuzi choma (roasted goat) with the bass of bongo fleva songs and the hum of a generator in the background, they discuss the plans for their next and final day of trapping for this trip. The following evening will find them in Iringa again, but travel for the samples has only begun. Soon, these samples will be headed to the HALI lab team’s new viral diagnostic laboratory at Sokoine University of Agriculture in Morogoro for RNA extraction and real-time PCR analyses. From there they might make their way to additional labs in Uganda and the US. You won’t find the HALI field team waiting at the office to hear the results. They’re already in a new environment- talking to the communities and scouting out the best bat roosts in town for their next trapping trip.
“A day in the field with HALI” is a new series of blog posts that will follow the diverse field activities of the HALI team. Stay tuned for future posts on water sampling, household interviews, and surveying buffalo!
Even better…the arrival of our first supply of liquid nitrogen! HALI and SUA researchers stepped around sand, rocks, and each other on their way to our storage room, trying to balance the heavy load. Asante sana to Dr. Makondo and his team for the delivery on their way to Katavi National Park (another 1500 or so km to the west), where they will be conducting wildlife disease research!
LN2 (if you’re into abbreviations or chemical descriptions) is a precious substance in our area of the world. Liquid nitrogen is very cool…literally! With a boiling point of -196 degrees Celsius (-321 degrees F), LN2 allows us to store our samples at ultra-low temperatures in the field and during transport to our lab at Sokoine University. The large, awkwardly shaped box in the photos contains a high-tech vacuum flask (or dewar) that keeps the liquid nitrogen, well…liquid.
So, where did the LN2 come from and where will it go? This batch came overland in the back of a pick-up truck from Dodoma, Tanzania’s capital. It will eventually evaporate and our supply will need to be refilled. However, our LN2 importing days will soon be over. To keep our project supply sustainable, we’re installing a liquid nitrogen generator…the first in Iringa! Stay tuned for updates on what it takes to make LN2 in the backyard.
Our meet the team blog series continues! This month we interviewed Zikankuba Sijali, our Assistant Country Coordinator for PREDICT (for more information on PREDICT, check out the ABOUT HALI tab).
Growing up in Mwanza region on Kome Island in Lake Victoria, Zikankuba was interested in animal health from an early age. After helping his mom with the cattle and spending time at a farm extension center when he was in primary school, Zikankuba decided he would one day become a veterinarian. At the extension center, he learned about improving village livelihoods with professionals from Sokoine University of Agriculture (SUA), the university where he recently earned his veterinary degree. Vet school offered Zikankuba the chance to pursue his long-term interest in wildlife as well as livestock. After courses in wildlife immobilization and treatment, Zikankuba wanted to work in one of the national parks, but his first job posting was as a district veterinary officer (DVO) for Pangani district on Tanzania’s Indian Ocean coast.
Zikankuba enjoyed working as a DVO, but after learning more about wildlife and connections with people and domestic animals, he wanted to explore zoonotic disease at the human-livestock-wildlife interface. Last December, Zikankuba’s dream to become a researcher led him to the HALI Project, where he is now the Assistant Country Coordinator for PREDICT, focusing on diseases that can move from wildlife to people. He’s excited to be learning about surveillance techniques, new disease diagnostics for wildlife, and zoonotic disease transmission. One of the most interesting parts of the project for Zikankuba has been working with bats – both large fruit bats and smaller insectivorous bats. Before he joined HALI, Zikankuba strongly disliked bats and saw them as a disturbance, but now you can hear him say, “I’m friends with bats,” as he tells people about their importance. Maybe they’ve grown to remind him of his favorite animals – wild birds.
Although Zikankuba enjoys living and working in Iringa, he also loved the lake coast where he could always find his favorite meal, fresh fish with ugali. His favorite area in Tanzania, though, is Mara region, a place with nice weather and welcoming people. In addition to being a beautiful region, it’s where he met his fiancée, Marilyn.
Zikankuba means thunderstorm and when combined with Sijali, it roughly translates to never scared of thunderstorms. Perhaps that’s why Zikankuba is also so open to new research experiences, from trapping rodents to working with pastoralist communities. When asked about his favorite part of working with HALI, Zikankuba told us that “investigating emerging diseases makes my profession come alive”. Spend time with Zikankuba and you can certainly see his enthusiasm, whether he is in the field sampling bats or in the office combing local newspapers for reports of disease outbreaks.
Facing heavy rain, challenging roads and long days in the field, HALI team members Goodluck, Harrison, Zikankuba, Amani and Erasto recently visited 24 pastoralist households in villages near Ruaha National Park. Goodluck Paul, the field coordinator for HALI’s NIH TB project, discussed project goals with Maasai, Sukuma and Barabaig pastoralists, village executive officers, and human health clinic staff. Drawing on years of field experience, Harrison Sadiki, HALI’s PREDICT country coordinator, also trained team members on TB testing techniques for cattle, sheep and goats. HALI’s expanding TB research will include human, animal and environmental studies to increase understanding of zoonotic TB transmission in Tanzania.
After building more links with local communities, increasing conversations between human and veterinary health professionals, and learning the lay of the village lands, HALI project staff are excited to continue integrative health research in this unique environment.