A PERSONAL JOURNEY: FROM PARASITE IMMUNOLOGY TO DISEASE CONTROL.
As one who always thrives on a challenge I set off for my long trip up the Eastern Usambara Mountains to this place they called Amani. The trip was up a series of undulating hills until we got to a point where I did not see houses or people. My fear was supressed by the breathtaking beauty of the drive, the beautiful forest, and the air getting clearer as we drove up the hill. On arrival at Amani my fears attacked me again, could I do it how was I expected to live here almost in the middle of nowhere. I consoled myself by reminding myself that there were several scientists here and that if they could live here so could I. My dad had a favourite saying that “its up to you to manage your circumstances” and that is exactly what I decided to do.
After several weeks of orientation I was finally designated to work in the helminthology laboratory where I learnt all about this parasite Wuchereria Bancrofti, the parasite that spreads bancroftian filariasis. I learnt to identify microfilariae of Wuchereria Bancrofti and Onchocerca volvulus. I learnt to dissect mosquitoes for infective larvae and the lab diagnosis of several parasites including schistosomes, hookworms, Trichuris etc. At the time mine was a predominantly wormy world and the people who truly initiated me into the wonderful world of worms were some great lab technicians and lab assistants who gave me the best hands on training I ever had. I treasure this training because it has played a great role in making me who I am today. One lab assistant liked to remind me that he started working on the month I was born. It didn’t affect me that they treated me like a kid I just soaked up all the information that was being given to me and enjoyed every moment. My family sometimes worried about how i was doing I would phone them from our old handle phones connected through the tiny exchange to tell them that I was doing fine and that I actually liked it there.
My early work included examining the relationship between eosinophilia and helminth parasites, I also looked at the impact of the trials for vector control for malaria on the transmission of Bancroftian Filariasis. I also worked with the late Prof Chris Curtis to control culicines in Muheza town using polystyrene beads.
I then went on to do my Msc and PhD at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine of the University of London, where I worked on filarial infection in cats. The cats was an experimental animal model that provided a lot of current knowledge in the understanding of the pathogenesis of filarial infection. The work I did focused on understanding how parasites evaded the hosts immune system and my findings indicated that there were surface immunoglobulins of the host that actually protected the parasite. This added to the body of knowledge on asymptomatic microfilaraemics people who have microfilariae but have no overt symptoms of the disease.