"Good to see both sides"

Oumou Maiga-Ascofaré is currently working as a research fellow at the Bernhard Nocht Institute for Tropical Medicine in Hamburg and at the Kumasi Centre for Collaborative Research in Tropical Medicine (KCCR) in Kumasi, Ghana. Her work is partially supported by DZIF. We met Oumou at a DZIF workshop of the African Partner Institutions in Tanzania and asked her about her work and her life among different cultures.


[Translate to Übersetzung:] Oumou Maiga-Ascofaré© DZIF

When did you start your research career in Hamburg?

Oumou: I started my postdoctoral fellowship in Hamburg in 2011 and in 2015 I went to KCCR for the Ebola Diagnostic Training Program for one year. I am coming from West Africa, from Mali, and when there was the outbreak I wanted to help. So I made a break in my research career as a microbiologist to join and train people from West Africa in diagnostics of Ebola. That was really important. Then I decided with Jürgen May, my group leader at the Bernhard Nocht Institute in Hamburg, to stay longer at KCCR and coordinate the projects on the field site.

What is your task in DZIF?

Oumou: In DZIF I am mainly responsible for SLIPTA* (Stepwise Laboratory Improvement Process towards Accreditation). I have to organize the quality management system in different techniques as for example PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction). I am bringing new diagnostic tools as PCR for malaria diagnostic that is not yet routinely in place into the African laboratories. The next step will be the cell culture of the malaria parasite Plasmodium falciparum.

What is your research focus?

Oumou: I am mainly working on Malaria. In the so called “Fever without source (FWS)” study *we analyzed the origin of fever illnesses in children. And we saw that we have quite a number of recurrence of malaria. I worked some time on antimalarial drug resistance and usually what we see is, that resistance comes from South East Asia to Africa and gets established there. But I think Artemisinin, the current widely used antimalarial drug, is a very rapid drug, acting very fast and then it is cleared from the blood stream. While the other drug, we were using before, had a long stay in the blood. So I think the mechanism of resistance developed by the parasite could be very different.

How do you want to tackle this problem?

Oumou: We are interested to see what is the background of this recurrent malaria. In some cases it is the same parasite when the patient comes back a short time after his “healing”. Fortunately we have some samples from the FWS study and we can do some screening at the molecular level but we don´t see the parasite itself and we didn’t collect serum to see the pharmacokinetics of the drug. So we want to start a new study to learn more about recurrences malaria after artemisinin based treatment.

The number of malaria deaths globally fell from an estimated 839 000 in 2000, to 438 000 in 2015, says the report of the World Health Organization. Do you have to change your research topic?

Oumou: I don´t think so. In most African countries Malaria is still a real problem. The diagnosis is a big problem and the training of the lab technicians in local facilities is poor. The parasites also are able to adapt very fast. Malaria in Africa has to be taken as a whole. You cannot eradicate in one country and just in the next country still have Malaria, because people are travelling a lot and they will reintroduce the disease. There is a lot of effort we have to make. Africa is a big continent.

How much time do you usually spend in Africa?

Oumou: At the moment I am spending 70 percent at KCCR in Ghana and 30 percent at BNITM in Germany. I really feel, being in the field is very important, because we can see better what is happening and have a better view of what is the need and what can be done.

Can you explain the important differences in the work here and there?

Oumou: When I am in Ghana I am there to train people, mostly, it is challenging sometimes because the resources, the culture of science, the quality management is not that well established. In Europe it is well established, the challenges are more in the details everything has to be structured. But in Ghana I see more opportunities, everybody is excited about new projects and collaboration, people want to learn and are motivated. It is quite a balance to see both sides and it is good for my career. Always something new. It is difficult to be on both sides and it means a lot of challenges.

Thank you very much for the talk.


*FWS: Fever without source study”

The four DZIF African Partner Institutions developed their collaboration by a joint biomedical research project on Fever without source in children. A major objective of this project was to establish a common sample repository of clinically well-characterized patients with high fever. It is currently used to better define the pathogen spectrum at each site and will serve as a source for further epidemiological investigations. For the management of febrile disease, new diagnostics are urgently needed to reduce antibiotic usage and resistance development, and thus preserve antibiotics for future use.

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