Africa as a continent has been lagging in almost every field as far as biotechnology is concerned, although this time there is a different story regarding the development of phage technology. Phage technology in Africa is still young, but the number of phage enthusiasts and scientists is booming more than expected by the pioneers. Outstanding achievements have been attained, and scientists in Africa have generated a network of collaboration where they share their data, skills, and experience both intra and inter-continentally.
Problems facing bacteriophage development in Africa
Bacteriophage technology development in Africa is facing a lot of challenges and most of them are not challenges faced in other well established or developed countries.
Facilities and equipment
One of the major challenges facing phage scientists is their laboratories. As most laboratories were built to handle pure bacteriological activities, it is rare to find some equipment (e.g incubator shaker and high-speed centrifuge etc.) for phage work. African laboratories are not yet well-facilitated/equipped enough that they can produce a complete phage product without outsourcing their pre-made product to another facility for some more work done. Most times laboratories from Africa outsource samples (phages) for transmission electron microscopy (TEM) and sequencing among others.
Price of consumables
Many scientists have noted that the prices of phage-related consumables are very high in Africa compared to other continents. This might have been brought on by two things:
- Cost of transportation
African scientists depend on foreign products; most of them are situated very far away from Africa.
- Scarcity driven prices
Bacteriophage-related consumables are rare in Africa, to a point sometimes scientists have to order and wait for days, weeks, even months for a supplier to deliver.
The development of policies in some places proceeds at a snail’s pace, especially if matters concern political issues. Scientific matters like phage therapy do not make headlines in many parts of Africa, which makes it difficult for scientists who are passionate about spearheading their development.
African societies, like many other societies around the world, possess a “built-in” negative perspective of viruses. Many believe there are no health benefits as far as the term virus is concerned, others go as far as concluding that all viruses cause disease. Some of the people who have negative sentiments toward phages are very important in policy development.
Most of the higher learning institutions in Africa include a very small introduction to bacteriophages in their curriculum, leaving students with a blank or almost blank idea about the wonderful and extraordinary impacts phages can have if applied to our daily lives. This causes the decline of a young generation that might otherwise be committed to the development of bacteriophage technology.
Regardless of how many hardworking phage scientists there are in Africa, securing funding for phage-related research remains a “sweat and tears” process. Many local funders do not entertain the potential of using viruses to treat humans or animals, or for any other application you may think of. It will require extra effort from scientists to secure funds for phage-related research in Africa.
Achievements made by phage scientists in Africa to overcome problems
A number of milestones have been met by the growing number of phage scientists in Africa.
Inter- and intra-continental collaborations
Many African phage scientists have joined the world of collaboration with other scientists from all over the world. By now, many world-renowned phage scientists have collaborated with at least one phage scientist from Africa in one way or another. Some of the collaborations are within the continent, while others, like AU-funded Safe Fish Project, led by senior microbiologist Dr. Jesca Nakavuma, include collaborators from both inside Africa (Ghana and Uganda) and outside Africa (United Kingdom: Prof. Martha Clokie).
Establishment of discussion platforms
Scientists have made an extraordinary effort in establishing both large and small platforms where they can share their ideas to achieve their common goal of having phage technology accepted by society and policymakers. Groups like the African Phage Forum (APF) who run webinars in collaboration with Phage Directory, as well as a WhatsApp group, where they always share their ideas and opportunities. Also, small groups like Kenya Phage Group, Phage Nigeria Research Group, Phage Team Uganda, and many others have been established with the same common goal of spreading phage technology across the continent.
Establishment of campaigns for community sensitization
Most phage researchers budget some amount of their grants on educating stakeholders about bacteriophages. This helps to facilitate future research work and encourage the acceptance of any developed phage-related products. Some scientists have taken it as far as to reach the point of starting online geo-targeted campaigns (like Bring Phage Therapy to South Africa Campaign from South Africa) to sensitize their communities to the concept of phages.
Free or affordable phage training
This has been achieved by both the scientists from outside Africa and within Africa. Some of the events like the ones conducted by Phages for Global Health (founded by Tobi Nagel) have been completed once a year, while others are occurring at a higher frequency with the common aim of preaching the gospel of phage technology.
Despite the aforementioned challenges facing the growth of phage technology in Africa, achievements that have been made by hardworking scientists are astonishing. Some of the achievements have resulted in producing phage preparations that are ready for use in the different fields, especially veterinary and aquaculture. In some countries, the fight to legalize phage therapy has started.
Many thanks to Atif Khan for finding and summarizing this week’s phage news, jobs and community posts!