We're delighted to say that we've received our first diary entry from the Mobile Malaria Team, and needless to say they've been busy. Please take a look at Dr Busby's update below:
We arrived in Namibia full of excitement about our trip. We’d been planning our challenging journey for the best part of a year and it was finally time to start, which felt quite surreal. Unfortunately, our Landrover was not in such a rush to get started; it was still in transit somewhere off the coast of West Africa by the time we’d arrived in the Namibian desert, so we whiled away a few days in the coastal town of Walvis Bay, finalising preparations for our journey.
The aim of the Mobile Malaria Project is to travel across Africa to learn about malaria. We’re lucky to have been loaned a brand new car for the trip by Land Rover and the Royal Geographical Society, and we’ll also be trialling the very latest genetic sequencing technology whilst we’re in the field. Now that we've arrived in Africa, our plans are turning into reality and it’s exciting to think about the adventures that we’ll have over the coming weeks.
Malaria is a devastating disease that still kills almost 500,000 people a year, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa. Part of our motivation for pursuing this expedition is to try to learn more about malaria. We want to understand what it’s like to live with the disease and understand more what people are doing to try to control it. So, once the car had arrived and we’d checked it over, we drove to Windhoek, the capital of Namibia. There we met some of the incredibly dedicated researchers who are committed to finding new ways to combat the disease, for example by learning from indigenous groups about the potential medicinal value of plants.
We next drove up to the North of the country. From the windows of the Labrover we watched as the landscape transitioned from the red, rocky dust of the desert to the lush green vegetation of the Kavongo region. Here, on the banks of the famous Kavango River, we visited our first malaria clinic. All settlements are served by a clinic, staffed by a nurse and a small team of workers. We learnt here that the clinic we visited looked after some 1,300 people, of whom a few hundred every year would get malaria. Some would also have HIV or tuberculosis, highlighting the fact that whilst very few of us in the developed world will ever get a serious infectious disease, it’s still a normal part of everyday life in some parts of Africa, and resources are comparatively very limited.
I’ve really been enjoying getting to know my Haskell. Over the few weeks that I’ve had it, the strap has begun to mould to my wrist and the watch's weighty yet unobtrusive presence constantly reminds me that I have a serious timepiece on my wrist. The robustness of the Haskell is very handy - whether I’m pulling one of our heavy lab cases out of the boot or peering under the bonnet, the Haskell won’t balk at being caught somewhere on the way, and I have no doubt that it will continue to withstand the bumps and knocks of an expedition like ours.
Having never owned a mechanical watch before, being met with a continuously moving second hand every time I look at the face makes me think about the passage of time a little differently. A second is not a discrete clunk of a moment, but a continuous motion, and there's a sense that it needs to be filled; that we need to keep moving and make the most of every moment. It’s been great for the team to have the opportunity to wear a Haskell on our journey. Time is an important part of any adventure, and having these watches on our wrists means that we can keep track of our commitments without the hassle of pulling out a phone or finding a clock.
It’s an increasingly fundamental part of my kit - the first thing I put on in the morning and the last thing I take off at night.
We’ve been playing a bit of catchup on our trip, due to the delayed start. We drove almost 2,000km from Windhoek to Lusaka via Victoria Falls in just under four days. For the first two of these, whilst we were still in Namibia, we were chaperoned by our Namibian colleagues and, under their guidance, we were able to sample some great Namibian food. Tilapia is a favourite up here and is served grilled fresh from the Kavango river with maize porridge, or pap, and the stewed leaves of the sweet potato plant. Truly delicious.
We’d been warned that border crossings were likely to be the hardest part of our journey; that we would never have exactly the right paperwork or we would need to pay some unspecified service fee to get the car through. In actual fact, nothing could be further from the truth. It took us a little over half an hour to get across the Namibian/Zambian border. We’d prepared properly. We had visas for Zambia in our passports, and insurance, and a Carnet de Passage for our car - which is like a passport for our vehicle, which proves that we’re planning to take the car out with us when we leave the country.
Our spirits were dampened by the drive on the other side, however. The road wasn’t a road, rather just an unending series of potholes. People had started new tracks to the sides of the tarmac, which we decided to take to avoid the potholes on the main road, but it turned out these were potholed too. The going was very slow, and tedious as we were so impatient to reach the next leg of our expedition. As I was in the driving seat, I tried to avoid them as much as possible and thought that I’d done a decent job until afterwards, when Issac informed us all that he had been feeling car sick for the first time in his life.
We visited the mighty waterfall known as the Mosi-oa-tunya (The Smoke that Thunders) to Zambians, or Victoria Falls to the wider world. These were honestly some of most incredible hours of my life. The spray from the falls is constant, and we were drenched within a few minutes of arriving. As we walked along the hill opposite them, we realised that they just go on and on and on, water relentlessly billowing over the top. A true force of nature and an undoubted wonder of the natural world. It was an awe inspiring, and refreshing, day.
Another day’s drive and we were in Lusaka, where we are now, preparing to trial our mobile genetic sequencing lab and teach some local scientists in its use. This is the first opportunity we’ll have to get the lab working in Africa, and an important step on our mission - ensuring that things run smoothly before trialling it in more remote areas. Our hope is that we can show that this data - which is incredibly important for malaria control - can be generated quickly and cheaply ‘out of the back of a Land Rover’. We’re looking forward to the challenge.
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