Blog- Field trip Zimbabwe Feb -2017

  • Posted on: 24 April 2017
  • By: admin

Our remit was simple and clear: go out to Zimbabwe and for two weeks collect urine, blood and stool samples from the young children who had been enrolled in our study into childhood schistosomiasis a year ago. The process for the field trip starts months in advance with multiple emails to and fro between ourselves and our Zimbabwean counterparts. Shopping lists galore of consumables which would be required while we were out in the field. This mounted up over the ensuing months and culminated in a grand total of 12 large, boxes which had to be shipped from Edinburgh to Harare. 


Watching the progress of these 12 boxes was a painful experience as they made their way in dribs ad drabs south towards their final destination. In the end it took a good two weeks from the moment they left our stores here in Edinburgh until they were finally “approved” by customs in Harare.


Transport of the manpower was a much simpler task. All packed up; cameras, stationary, anti-malarials, Go Pro’s and wet wipes all ready to go. The team arrived at Edinburgh International on a cold and drizzly winters day. Three flights and nearly a day later we arrived in Harare and were scooped up at the airport by Dr Mutapi. Within 6 hours of landing we had been transported to our accommodation in Shamva for the duration of the field trip. Rural is the best way to describe it; a farm in Mashonaland central province, about 20 minutes’ drive from our laboratory base. Mosquito nets assembled, sleep was not far away.


As with farm life anywhere in the world the wakeup call comes with the cockerel around 4:30am. The team rose gradually and once all dressed and breakfasted we were collected and transported to our lab in the village of Madziva.

What follows is best described as organised chaos as 8 groups of people gather up the necessary equipment for a day collecting samples in the field. Tables, chairs, urine pots, paper, bleeding equipment, bread, juice and most importantly lolly pops! We set off to 8 different locations for our first day collecting specimens. 


The sites were a mixture of local clinics and buildings which were located in a good area for most of the participants. I was taken under the wing of Mr Stanley Mushipe! A slow start to the day was hampered further by continuing bad weather. This could mean that many of the mums may not be able to make it. Torrential rain swiftly turns the roads around us into orange, claggy mud strips. Hopefully nobody will be cut off by the ever swelling rivers.


By 11:30 we had a busy site indeed! Classroom loads of children would arrive, shepherded along by their teachers. Mums would arrive with their babies wrapped to their backs, escorting the youngsters who would line up in order to be marked down on the register. Soon there was a pretty efficient process happening… children arrive and get marked off on the register. This gives them their case number which is written onto their forearm. They are then given a couple of pots; one for urine and the other for stool. They then head off to produce these samples and if that is not happening today they bring it back tomorrow. 

Anthropometric measurements are taken for each child; height, weight and MUAC (Mid-Upper Arm Circumference which gives an indication of the nutritional status of the child). This process should be straight forward and painless…. you would think! However, some of the little ones took a particular dislike to the height measuring instrument and were most vocal in expressing this. The last part of the process involves our local nurses taking a blood sample from the child. After this they were rewarded with bread, Mazoe orange juice and a lolly pop!




Our day in the field ends around 3pm when we are collected from our site and taken back to the laboratory. After a brief lunch of road runner chicken and rice or sadza we start the task of processing and cataloguing the samples from the day. That is generally how a day in the field shapes up. Now and then things are given a bit of a shake up…the odd 24-hour power cut tests the ingenuity of the team. Gerry cans with fuel are used to keep the tiny generator going in an effort to keep the lab equipment functioning. 



After two weeks of early rises, long hours in the field and back in the lab, the group have properly bonded and are working as a great team.

We have processed the bulk of the samples and finish of by doing an inventory of the remaining consumables. Results from processing our samples indicated that young children were indeed being exposed to the schistosomiasis parasite and that our research, which aims to better understand treatment and the disease, will help hundreds if not thousands of children at risk.

Our return journey to Harare is eventful with the imminent arrival of a cyclone coming in from Mozambique. We drive through what I can probably say is some of the heaviest rain I have ever encountered. 

Before we left for Zimbabwe we learnt of the difficulties some places had obtaining even the most basic pain relief. In casual conversations we discussed this with work colleagues and friends, mentioning that if they had a spare 20p they might want to buy a pack of paracetamol or ibuprofen. The response was quite honestly overwhelming! Colleagues here at the University and at my husband’s work (Network Rail) responded with gusto and we soon had a large amount of donated medication to ship out to Zimbabwe.


So, in the last few days of our visit we visited an old folk’s home which had run out of these items. We were met by the ladies that run the home and the chairman, who had taken time out of his day job (high school head teacher) to come and meet us. They introduced us to some of the gentlemen who reside at the home, as we wandered around the grounds. 



It was quite surprising to hear that our donation would see the home through the rest of the year! So I say again a huge thank you to all of the people who donated J.

All too soon our visit to Zimbabwe was over. We had all arrived with varying expectations as to what was ahead of us. I for one left Zimbabwe, keen to return home to my family, but taking a wee piece of this amazing country back to Scotland with me!


Aerial shots of the fieldwork location:



Janice Murray, PhD

Parasite Immuno-epididemiology Group,

Institute of Immunology & Infection Research,

Ashworth Laboratories,

The University of Edinburgh,

Kings Buildings,

West Mains Road,