Since 2004, faculty and students from the University of Calgary has been travelling to Tanzania to conduct research projects at the undergraduate and graduate student levels. Our host in Tanzania is Endulen Hospital, a remote hospital in the Ngorongoro Conservation Area in Northern Tanzania. Endulen hospital is an 86-bed hospital which primarily serves the Maasia community in the area. The Maasai are semi-nomadic pastoralists who travel great distances to graze their cattle. Hospital staff help identify research priorities and they directly benefit from the research results. Ongoing research in the areas of malaria diagnostics and animal-human health have been well received. The staff at the hospital have expressed interest in strengthening their own research skills in order to better collaborate with researchers from the University of Calgary. Building research capacity increases the hospital's ability to conduct research vital to understanding the health needs of the local population. In addition, it strengthens Endulen's capacity to host University of Calgary undergraduate, graduate and faculty researchers investigating questions of global health.
Improving Diagnostic Capacity
Current efforts have significantly improved laboratory diagnostic skills. The introduction of locally adapted standard operating proceedures (SOPs) in the lab, along with an improved water filtration system and the recruitment of a highly trained lab manager have greatly improved the accuracy of diagnostic services. In addition, Endulen Hospital has estabilshed an external quality control protocol which helps monitor the accuracy of malaria diagnosis. As a result, we have seen a significant reduction in mis-diagnosis of malaria, which means a decrease in the over-prescription of anti-malarial drugs. The results of this collaboration are published in the journal Malaria. An open access version of the article can be found here.
Understanding Animal-Human Health
Animal diseases are a major influence on health, well-being and food security of Maasai society and this will be greatly exacerbated by climate change, both directly through increased transmission and indirectly through changed patterns of movement. It is an urgent and severe threat to pastoralist communities. The Maasai's intricate link with livestock, and vulnerability as a nomadic people, as well as their further marginalization during times of economic hardship, make them a population at high risk for the wide-reaching animal, human and social health effects of climate change.
Our team's research has shown that a significant portion of the Maasai population, particularly women and children, currently suffers from food insecurity. For Maasai women in the NCA, food supplies are highly variable and subject to seasonality. During the dry season, lower milk production in milking animals and low stores of maize lead the Maasai to experience food shortage. Social inequalities, such as differences in herd size, exacerbate this. Climate extremes already have significant impacts on food security and health in the Maasai. Currently, drought conditions in some ecological zones of the NCA are severely affecting the condition of the Maasai livestock. The men must migrate with their herds to better pastures, leaving wives and children behind in the bomas (traditional family housing compound) with a small number of livestock. Consequences of the drought and pastoralist practices include increased mixing of herds from different sources and herd migration over large distances with enhanced potential for disease transmission. Due to lack of livestock income, there is a significant reduction in the number of people seeking medical attention in local rural hospitals such as Endulen Hospital. More research on mitigating the impact of climate change on food insecurity is needed to reduce vulnerabilities in this population.