Partnering for antimicrobial stewardship and
conservancy in Africa.

UKZN’s College of Health Sciences (CHS), under the leadership of Professor Sabiha Essack, has been awarded seed funding to oversee a grant writing proposal for a five-year project valued at over R22million and aimed at strengthening the institutional capacity of two universities in Malawi and Mozambique, and their delivery of quality health sciences education.

The seed funding 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.

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. ‘HIV and AIDS have a high prevalence amongst adults between 15 and 49 years of age, and respiratory tract infection, diarrhoea, HIV and AIDS feature prominently in the distribution of causes of death in children under five years of age.’

Essack said antimicrobial (drug) resistance 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.

In view of existing partnerships and research collaborations between UKZN and the University of Tromsø in Norway, the University of Malawi and Mozambique’s Inst Superior Ciencias Saude- Comissao Instaladora, the institutions decided to collaborate and apply for the NORHED grant for a project titled: Antimicrobial Stewardship and Conservancy in Africa.

Professor Doutor Domingos Tuto from Mozambique and Dr Geoff Chipungu, Clinical Microbiologist at the University of Malawi said the project was extremely important for their institutions. Among other factors, it would generate useful data on managing infections and managing each country’s resources. Tuto said they were challenged with patients that took incorrect dosages and exceeded their duration of treatment. This often led to drug resistance and was a financial burden to the health system, increasing the need for even more costly and toxic drugs. 

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.’