Our experiences with the monkeys will have to wait because I have to blog on the completely amazing day we had today going ‘up country’. The MRC have a number of field stations where they undertake research in the traditional Gambian villages. Traditional means no running water, no electricity, no sewers, no street lighting etc. The major concession to the 21st century is unbelievably good GSM phone coverage. Coupled with a 3G or GPRS network which must be coming soon this would mean you could watch YouTube on your phone, but not be able to charge it! One adaptation the Gambians have made to local mobile phones is that they have a built-in torchlight – helpful when walking on the potholed roads.
As part of the MRC Pneumococcus vaccination project, a number of study villages are enrolled in clinical trials of vaccine efficacy and safety, as well as Brenda’s nasopharyngeal metagenome project. Before samples can be taken, permission has to be sought from the alkalo (chief) of the village. Invariably this is given and all newborn children are enrolled in the trial. We watched consent being taken from a mother (although, culturally, male consent is all that is required, and if not given the mother’s wishes are not important) which was done very professionally and thoroughly by Mansu, one of the MRC field supervisors. One given, details are taken and a nasopharyngeal swab is taken from the infant and/or vaccine administered. There is great faith in the work done by the MRC rates and consent rates are near 100%.
Visiting the villages is completely charming, with the pre-school kids running around the family compound. Spotting a white face they scream and shout ‘toubab, toubab!’. They are sent into a frenzy of excitement if you take their picture and show them the result – scrambling to find their faces and pointing with glee. The mothers are quite shy but seem not to mind the invasion of privacy. Mostly the men are no-where to be seen other than the scholarly looking chaps outside the Mosque. Some are fishing, mending nets, or processing the groundnut harvest. Others are probably cooking a brew of attaya (Chinese green tea) of which more later.
Much more to say on our visit, but will post now and update a bit later.