A day as a lab technologist
Research is an important aspect of any organization that aims to enhance the quality of it work. Last year, the National Malaria Control Center (NMCC), with technical assistance from Akros, set up a pre-fab laboratory facility where cutting-edge DNA technologies are used to ‘fingerprint’ or barcode individual parasite infections. This enables the NMCC to link individual infections with the same fingerprint. This further ensures evidenced-based decision making with regard to malaria programming and the efficient use of resources.
Mulenga Mwenda is the Akros Lab Technologist. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Biology from the University of Zambia, and worked for NMCC’s Malaria Transmission Consortium as a Research Assistant from 2010 to 2013 before joining Akros later in 2013.
Mwenda describes her ability to work in the lab, carry out experiments and get desired results as the most fulfilling part of her job. Overall, she describes her role at Akros as the receipt of field samples, sorting them and assigning unique identification numbers, extracting of DNA and anti-bodies from samples from the Active Infection Detection field responses as well as other programmes such as the National Malaria Indicator survey and conducting scientific investigations (malaria research). Depending on the scientific question being answered, she carries out Polymerase Chain Reactions (PCRS) or Enzyme-linked Immunosorbent Assays (ELISAs).
I spent a day with Ms. Mwenda and observed the intricacy of her work and its connection to malaria surveillance.
When Mwenda enters the lab, the first thing she does is arrange received samples of Rapid Diagnostic Tests (RDTs) and dry blood spots collected during malaria field responses. “The tubes should be labeled to correspond correctly with the identifications used,” said Mwenda. “This is very important as it ensures accuracy and allows for us to connect relationships in our findings from the confirmed malaria case at the clinic (index case) to the index house and finally to the 10 households within the 14 meter radius from the index targeted for malaria screening,” she added.
Once she was done with ensuring that the samples are correctly labeled, she then cuts the filter papers to only have dry blood spots and she starts to extract DNA. “I run different experiments depending on the question we are answering: Is it species identification, Plasmodium falciparum genotyping or are we simply looking at whether our study population has been exposed to Malaria infections and how much is that exposure” said Mwenda.
When she is done with the experiments, she is expected to write a lab report highlighting what she has been researching and presents it to Dr. Daniel Bridges, Akros Director of Research, and Roy Mwenechanya, the Akros Lab Manager, who interpret the findings.
Mwenda works directly with Akros malaria field supervisors in Lusaka whose main role is to oversee the Active Infection Detection (AID) programme at selected government clinics and during field responses conducted by government clinic staff.
AID is an approach that consists of two surveillance components, namely passive and reactive case detection. Passive case detection describes testing symptomatic individuals suspected of having malaria who have presented at a local health facility. Individuals who test positive are then treated with an antimalarial or referred as appropriate.
Confirmed passive positive individuals, termed ‘index cases’ are then enrolled in a reactive response that consists of testing and treating malaria positives, family members and neighbors living within a 140 meter radius around the index house. The AID response team consists of a nurse, an environmental health technologist, a community health worker and an Akros field supervisor.
About Maswabi Precious Matantilo
Precious Matantilo is an Advocacy and Communications Officer for Akros and is a Global Health Corps fellow for 2014/2015. Before joining Akros, Precious worked for the Commonwealth Youth Programme as programmes assistant. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in Development Studies from the Zambian Open University.