UP Zoonotic and Arbovirus research goes global

Posted on November 20, 2019

The Zoonotic, Arbo and Respiratory Virus program (ZARV), run by Professor Marietjie Venter is housed in the Department of Medical Virology on Prinshof campus.  The group has strong international and research collaborations which have resulted in a number of exciting ventures for staff and students this year. Prof Venter attended the World Health Organisation (WHO) meeting on Respiratory Syncytial Virus Surveillance from 10-12 April 2019 in Kathmandu, Nepal as Special Advisor on RSV surveillance using the global Influenza surveillance network. This initiative forms part of international preparedness and response as the world gets ready to implement an RSV vaccine.

Ms Olivia Lentsoane attended a Biosecurity workshop for young scientists organised and funded by UNODA (United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs) held in Geneva and Montreux, Switzerland from the 2nd – 4th of August 2019.  Two ZARV students Caitlin MacIntyre (MSc student, Medical Virology) and Elise Bonnet (PhD student, Medical Virology), attended training in Germany and the Netherlands in July/August of this year.  The students spent two weeks learning diagnostic techniques to analyse West Nile virus, Wesselsbron virus, Shuni virus and Middleburg virus. The African Network for improved diagnostics, epidemiology and management of common infectious agents or ANDEMIA is a German-funded initiative that focuses on investigating unsolved cases of fever in humans. In November 2018, Dr Adriano Mendes (Post-doctoral researcher) assisted in training researchers in Cote d’Ivoire to run molecular diagnostics on febrile disease using a tool developed by the ZARV group. This was followed by a molecular testing workshop for capacity building of African ANDEMIA researchers in June 2019 funded through the University of Pretoria G7 grant and presented by Dr Mendes and Prof Venter, in collaboration with Dr Nicci Page at the NICD. 

As part of the ecological research focus on mosquito vectors associated with arbovirus transmission, the University of Liverpool invited ZARV to co-organise a training workshop in Nairobi, Kenya with the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE) as part of a Horn of Africa training. Prof Venter, Miss Milehna Guarido (PhD student) and Dr Megan Riddin (then Post-doctoral researcher) set up a workshop which focused on training all African participants in basic mosquito identification.  Two students within the ZARV group, Miss Kamini Govender (Honours student, Medical virology) and Rebecca Jeal (PhD student, Medical Virology) also participated in the workshop.  Miss Guarido (PhD student, Medical Virology) visited the University of Liverpool where she used data generated here in South Africa, regarding mosquito prevalence and diversity, to develop models for how particular species may contribute to disease prevalence in different climates of South Africa. Ms Guarido also participated in the training on Secure Insectary Methods at the Pirbright Institute from the 1st to 5th of June 2019. The training centred on how to conduct vector competence studies in BSL-3 and BSL-4 conditions, which Milehna hopes to be able to implement here at U.P.  

Finally, ZARV also tapped into existing bilateral agreements between UP and the University of Bologna. Prof Venter visited the University of Bologna on the Erasmus+ staff mobility teaching agreement from 8-14 August 2019.  She presented lectures on these topics to students and staff in Biomedical and Neuromotor Science as well as the School of Specialization of Microbiology and Virology at the University of Bologna Medical School. Finally, she was invited by the Italian Society of Virology National conference, 10-12 September, in Padova to give the keynote address in the session on Emerging and zoonotic viruses and entitled "Emerging zoonotic arboviruses: The Africa -Europe connection".

- Author Adriano Mendes
Published by Mmane Boikanyo

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