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They never saw it coming. The beginning of March 2019 was just like any other month in the republics of Malawi and Mozambique in southeastern Africa. Children were laughing, farmers were tending their crops, scientists were researching. Little did they know how much their lives would change in just a matter of weeks.

Seeding labs

On the evening of March 14, 2019, Cyclone Idai, which had been brewing off the coast of Africa, made landfall in Beira, Mozambique as a Category 2 storm with winds exceeding 120 mph. Then a few weeks later, in the late afternoon of April 25, Cyclone Kenneth made landfall near Pemba, Mozambique with sustained winds of 140 mph. Both storms pummeled Mozambique, Malawi, and Zimbabwe with intense winds and torrential amounts of rain.

The impacts of Idai and Kenneth were extreme. Flooding destroyed more than $873 million in buildings, infrastructure, and crops; more than 100,000 homes were damaged or destroyed; and more than 1,000 people lost their lives. In addition to this damage, the water supply for the region was severely compromised, causing waterborne diseases such as cholera to spread rapidly in the aftermath of the flooding.

The need to test the water was becoming urgent. The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and Brazilian scientists specializing in cholera came to help, but they needed a local research institution that would have the facility and equipment necessary to conduct the water testing. Fortunately, they found help with Dr. Gama Bandawe and his team at the Malawi University of Science and Technology (MUST).

Headshot image of Dr. Gama Bandawe
Gama Bandawe, PhD
Malawi University of Science & Technology

Dr. Bandawe is a medical virologist whose lab has focused on infectious and noncommunicable diseases since 2015. The aim of his research is to understand the precursors of nonmalarial fever so that better diagnoses and subsequent treatments can be applied.

To accomplish these goals and to secure funding for the efforts, lab instrumentation is essential. Enter Seeding Labs, a nonprofit organization that empowers researchers by placing scientific instrumentation in the academic institutions of developing nations. Just four months before Cyclone Idai, Dr. Bandawe had received a 20-foot container from Seeding Labs with the equipment necessary to perform water testing for his research.

Using the molecular biology instrumentation from Seeding Labs, Dr. Bandawe and his team were able to identify which wells were contaminated and which were safe, slowing the spread of disease and helping the region recover from the storms.

Without the contribution of Seeding Labs, this type of work would not be possible. According to Dr. Bandawe, “Seeding Labs’ equipment is a central part of realizing [our] plans. The programs being established simply cannot run without the necessary equipment.”

We at Thermo Fisher Scientific have a long history of partnering with Seeding Labs to help talented scientists in developing countries conduct life-changing research. Beginning with the Thermo Scientific NanoDrop spectrophotometer in 2011 and Applied Biosystems thermal cyclers more recently, we strive to support the work of researchers by providing the tools they need, helping drive discoveries that benefit us all.

 Learn more about Seeding Labs and how their instruments help labs around the world
Learn more about Dr. Gama Bandawe and his research at MUST

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