Dr. John Kiiru: My experience as a Post Doc

Oct 31, 2016A4NH, ABS, Blog, Latest news, Urban Zoo Project

I joined the Urban Zoo Project in June 2014 as a laboratory coordinator. The Urban Zoo study is a collaborative project bringing together experts from various institutions in the UK (University of Liverpool, The Royal Veterinary College, University of Edinburgh etc.),  and at least three institutions in Kenya (The University of Nairobi (UoN), International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI). The Team in ILRI handles the fieldwork while the teams at KEMRI and UoN handle the lab work. My main responsibility has been to develop standard protocols for use in the two labs and to ensure that the data generated is not only robust, but accurate. The two labs have approximately 10 technicians, numerous students on attachments and a number of interns from Kenya and the UK.


With Lord Alexander Trees in London during an ESEI meeting

In order to appreciate the uniqueness of zoonoses, it is important to realize that there are approximately 600 pathogens which are known to infect humans and 61% of these cause zoonotic diseases. Zoonotic bacteria originating from food animals can reach people through direct faecal oral route, contaminated animal food products, improper food handling, and inadequate cooking.  These diseases have a negative im-pact on travel, commerce, and economies worldwide. It has been my view that the unique dynamic interaction between the humans, animals, and pathogens, sharing the same environment should be considered within the “One Health” approach, which dates back to ancient times of Hippocrates. The Urban Zoo project combines mapping, sampling from humans, animals and their environment, determination of antimicrobial resistance profiles and whole genome sequencing of isolates obtained from human and environmental sources. Joining this study therefore gave me that unique opportunity to gain a lot of insights in this subject.

The very fact that this study brings so many experts with unique expertise together makes Urban Zoo project unique. Work-ing with different labs requires substantial managerial skills and the need to consult and reach consensus on all major issues that impact on the quality of the data generated. Through my engagement in the study, I have not only gained considerable organization/leadership skills, but also better communication skills. My participation in this study has also impacted positively on my career and I have been invited as an expert in antimicrobial resistance as a trainer in international workshops by the WHO, the Welcome Trust Advanced Courses and for the drafting on a situation paper by the FAO on application of whole genome sequencing of foodborne pathogens in developing countries.

This article has been written by  John Kiiru (Post Doc under the 99HH Study, based jointly between the KEMRI and International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Kenya). 

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