U.S. Army medical researchers from Kenya offer mentorship in Nigeria
Nigerian lab technicians undergo malaria microscopy mentoring from the U.S. Army Research Unit-Kenya's Malaria Diagnostics and Control Center of Excellence recently at a Nigerian Air Force hospital near Lagos, Nigeria.

LAGOS, Nigeria - A team of medical experts from U.S. Army Medical Research Unit-Kenya recently visited Nigeria to offer their expertise in malaria microscopy.

The team from USAMRU-K, also known as the Walter Reed Project, departed the unit's Malaria Diagnostics and Control Center of Excellence in Kisumu, Kenya - arriving in Lagos in late-September, said Maj. Eric Wagar, director of the center.

"Our team was invited to Nigeria to teach a malaria microscopy course and mentor Nigerian instructors who had previously undergone the course at our center in Kisumu," Wagar said. "This effort in Nigeria is an example of USAMRU-K's expanding role in Africa to support efforts that increase capabilities within African partner nations."

The course is the first step in establishing a new malaria microscopy training center in Nigeria as part of the cooperative efforts between the U.S. Defense Department's HIV program in Nigeria and the Nigerian Ministry of Defense, Wagar said.

One of five U.S. military research overseas labs, USAMRU-K was first established in 1969 at Kenya's invitation to study trypanosomiasis, a parasitic disease transmitted by the tsetse fly. In 1973, the unit was permanently set up in Nairobi, working through an agreement with the Kenya Medical Research Institute. USAMRU-K has 10 U.S. Army Soldiers, two Army civilians and over 400 Kenyan contractors - a mix of doctors, nurses, scientists and laboratory technicians who work together to research, test and prevent disease.

Much of the USAMRU-K's efforts are centered on malaria research, anti-malarial drug testing and studies to support malaria vaccines. Other research helps people facing HIV, diarrheal disease and tuberculosis.

In 2004, USAMRU-K began courses at Kisumu. Since then, the center hosted more than 500 students from 16 African countries in an outreach to improve the technicians' ability to read blood samples for malaria diagnosis, said Col. David Jones, director of USAMRU-K's Kisumu station.

In the past, research suffered because lab technicians were unable to correctly read blood slides during studies, Jones said.

"Training is pivotal to improve the quality of lab work," Jones said.

In July 2009, two laboratory technicians from U.S. Defense Department's HIV program in Nigeria completed the microscopy course in Kenya. The pair served as primary instructors for the first microscopy course in Nigeria - a two-week effort held at the 445th Nigerian Air Force Hospital, Wagar said. In addition to providing medical care for the Nigerian military, the hospital also provides care to a large number of civilian patients.

Upon the USAMRU-K team's arrival, Nigerian Air Force Group Capt. Edward Abayomi Akinwale, who heads the hospital's laboratory, offered Wagar and five Kenyan staff a tour of the Nigerian labs.

"The lab was recently renovated," Wagar said. "This beautiful new facility has over two dozen microscopes and equipment necessary for preparing malaria blood films, plus computers and projectors - everything needed to teach a course in malaria microscopy."

During the course, Nigerian and U.S. military officials with interest in improving medical research standards observed the class. Wagar also met with Air Commodore Harold Oyechi, the Nigerian medical officer in charge of the hospital, and Brigadier General (Dr.) T. O. Umar, the head of the Nigerian Emergency Plan Implementation Committee, which coordinates bilateral U.S.-Nigerian military efforts to fight HIV and AIDS.

The USAMRU-K team plans to return to Nigeria in March to mentor a second microscopy class and officially commission the new Nigerian malaria microscopy training center, Wagar said. The center has also offered courses in Ghana and is planning for coursework in Tanzania.

"Our goal is to increase Nigerian capabilities to support HIV care and treatment and medical research by mentoring Nigerian staff who, in turn, teach lab technicians among their own ranks," Wagar said. "It's a step forward that we were glad to assist in."

Page last updated Fri July 22nd, 2011 at 12:16