Strengthening capacity in infectious disease detection in Africa

Date: 25 September 2017

The latest iteration of the popular 'Molecular Approaches to Clinical Microbiology in Africa' laboratory course provided training for scientists and clinicians from across Africa.

Molecular Approaches to Clinical Microbiology in Africa
3-8 September 2017, University of Cape Town, South Africa

The latest iteration of this popular laboratory course provided training for scientists and clinicians from across Africa – focussing on genomic and molecular techniques for the rapid and accurate diagnosis of bacterial diseases such as TB, meningitis and salmonella.

Now in its 7th year, the 2017 course was hosted by Professor Mark Nicol at the University of Cape Town, South Africa, whose staff kindly vacated their Medical Microbiology laboratory for the week.

Techniques covered included simple PCR tests and the latest DNA sequencing: both conventional sequencing and rapid single molecule sequencing using a hand-held device. DNA sequences were explored using freely-available web-based software tools to identify bacterial strains, variants and antimicrobial resistance (AMR). Current and future technologies were highlighted.

Molecular laboratory and bioinformatics tools provide a fast-track approach to diagnosis of bacterial pathogens, as well as providing essential information such as that relating to AMR. Many of these methods are straightforward to use and are possible to implement in low- or middle- income settings.

The programme was designed to include techniques that can be applied immediately to laboratories across Africa, technologies that may be used in partnership with others, or that may be accessible in the near future, as well as a good foundation of knowledge in order to assess the most useful methods for each participant’s work.

The course has a strong collaborative focus, bringing together an expert instructor team of scientists and clinicians from South Africa, Kenya, The Gambia, Malawi, and the UK, who are using these techniques routinely. The training continues to attract applications from across the continent, with twenty students from 10 African countries selected to attend this year.

The course provides an intensive, interactive (and exhausting) week of training, with learning continuing well into each evening back at the hotel. Lectures on the real-life application of molecular methods to outbreaks of disease across Africa, as well as tutorial groups over dinner, provide a lively opportunity for discussion.

The participants commented after the course that
“I’ve now moved from the dark into the light” about molecular techniques;
“The best part for me was the lab experiments; having hands on experience and being able to see the results later on, and then interpret them.”
“All the talks were quite an inspiration and eye opener.”

This overseas course rotates round four countries in Africa: The Gambia, Kenya, Malawi and South Africa. The next iteration of this course will be held at the Kenya Medical Research Institute, Nairobi, Kenya, in September 2018, hosted by Professor Sam Kariuki.