Partnering for antimicrobial stewardship and
conservancy in Africa.

UKZN’s College of Health Sciences (CHS), under the leadership of Professor Sabiha Essack as principle investigator, has been awarded a grant valued at approximately R27 million over five-years aimed at strengthening the postgraduate and research capacities of two universities in Malawi and Mozambique.

The grant was awarded by the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD) under its new programme called the Norwegian Programme for Capacity Development in Higher Education and Research for Development (NORHED). Through strategic investments, NORHED is designed to stimulate productive South-North collaboration between NORAD and institutions of higher education in low and middle income countries (LMICs). The agency had observed that such institutions faced difficulties in providing quality and relevance of learning and research, retaining staff and ensuring adequate working environments and career prospects.

Existing partnerships and research collaborations between UKZN, the University of Tromsø in Norway, the University of Malawi and Mozambique’s Inst Superior Ciências Saúde- Commissar Instaladora, resulted in a consortium that applied for and was successfully awarded a NORHED grant for a project entitled: Antimicrobial Stewardship and Conservancy in Africa.  The project will focus on communicable diseases and antimicrobial resistance in Africa, the containment of drug resistance, infection prevention and control, antibiotic selection pressure, social science aspects, as well as strategies to achieve African Union imperatives by South-South collaboration with North-South support.  

Essack, who is Dean and Head of the School of Health Sciences, said health statistics of the target NORHED LMICs in sub-Saharan Africa showed communicable diseases as the main cause of years of life lost. Antimicrobial (drug) resistance (AMR) was a key obstacle for the successful management of infectious diseases in Africa, especially in LMICs where the burden of infectious diseases is high and access to diagnostic services and second-line treatment were often absent.

The collaborators said drug resistance was global problem. Norway and the other Nordic countries were identified as global leaders in this field as evidenced by ‘low resistance rates’ and a strong political commitment most recently demonstrated by the “One Health” proposal to the European Parliament and the global health community in 2012.  Professor Arnfinn Sundsfjord, Dean of the Faculty of Health Sciences at the University of Tromso in Norway, said the institution was encouraged by the initiative from UKZN as it addressed a very important topic on a global scale – ‘the crisis of drug resistance when there are no new drugs available for low income countries…  We are pleased to contribute to developing and building competence in Malawi and Mozambique.’

The UKZN team consisting of Professor Essack, Professor Preshnie Moodley, Emeritus Professor Wim Sturm, Professor Fatima Suleman and Dr Christine Varga were particularly pleased with the feedback from reviewers which included the following: “This is a very strong proposal aimed at developing the infrastructure for surveillance of antimicrobial use and the evaluation of the development of antimicrobial resistance in Malawi and Mozambique. This project is an excellent interface between curriculum development and research execution. It also addressed the issue of undergraduate training, laboratory infrastructure development, curriculum development for Master’s and PhD programs and field research into antimicrobials as well as technical support. The partners proposed are excellent and have a good strategy of working together and past experience of working together.  Projects like this are critically needed and the South-South collaboration is commended.”