By ALICE NACHILEMBE
University of Zambia (UNZA) Lecturer and Researcher Simbarashe Chitanga has been awarded a two million four hundred thousand dollars ($2.4m) grant to conduct research in ticks and tick – borne Rickettsial pathogens.
The grant that is jointly funded by the National Institute of Health (NIH) in the United States of America (USA) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) through the Ecology and Evolution of Infectious Diseases Program, will see Dr Chitanga collaborate with researchers from five (5) other Universities from USA and South Africa to study the tick distribution as well as prevalence of Rickettsial pathogens.
Dr Chitanga who is a Lecturer and Researcher in the School of Health Sciences, Department of Biomedical Sciences at UNZA’s Ridgeway Campus, says his research focuses on understanding factors influencing tick distribution and the epidemiology of Rickettsia infection in ticks.
He said those are crucial to the control and mitigation of these bacteria that are passed through the bite of an infected tick.
Dr Chitanga said the bacteria which infects both humans and animals, causes clinical signs that resemble those of malaria – fever and body weakness.
According to Dr Chitanga, in a previous study conducted in Eastern, Northern and Western parts of Zambia, about 16% of the people tested in the sample had evidence of previously being infected by Rickettsia.
He said despite the findings from the study however, human cases of fever are never tested for Rickettsia in Zambia’s health centers.
Dr Chitanga said findings from his study are crucial to influencing policy on diagnostic steps for cases of fever.
Meanwhile, University of Zambia (UNZA) Vice Chancellor, Luke Evuta Mumba has congratulated Dr Chitanga for winning the grant and embarking on research that has potential to save lives in Zambia and the Sub-Saharan region.
Prof Mumba said UNZA Management is optimistic that through this multi-disciplinary study, humanity will have answers to how influences of environmental, physiological, and microbial factors on determination of human risk of tick-borne rickettsial infection can be established.
He said tick-borne Rickettsial needs urgent control measures because it is a disease that is often mistaken for malaria but does not respond to malarial treatment.
Dr Chitanga’s research will span over a period of five (5) years involving collection of ticks from animals and vegetation every month for a period of 60 months in search of the tick-borne Rickettsial pathogen. The research will also involve testing humans for presence of the pathogens in human blood.
This is contained in a statement Issued by UNZA Spokesperson Brenda Bukowa.