Interview with Dr. Tanyi Pride - The World of Research & Clinical Research in Africa

Article By Samantha Trolli IN News - 5th August, 2022

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We had the opportunity to interview one of our own, Dr. Tanyi Pride, Head of Research. Dr. Tanyi has spent his career pursuing his passion for research in many sectors of healthcare in Africa. In this interview, we discuss the world of research and learn of Dr. Tanyi’s past and current studies. 

Q: Why is research important?
A: I would say research is important because it gives room to either reaffirm current existing findings or to contradict current findings. This can lead to results that can set speculations for others to continue, because in research you can’t solve everything. So you can make your finding and then some other person who has a specialty can continue with it. Or, as well as what I said about reaffirming existing research, we can also find better ways of getting better models to achieve the same outcome. 

Q: How do you see research findings applied in the healthcare system?
A: When the research is done and the results are produced, a researcher – who is not a policy maker – can not implement their results. This is what it is like in most contexts, I would say there are high incidences of this in Africa. For example, there has been a lot of academic research that has been done but they have not had any significant impact. We have had a lot of research done buy masters or PhD students that could have a lot of impact on society, however it ends on the day they are granted their degree. Something needs to be done with respect to making research implemented. We need to see more research in the hard policy. 

Q: Where else do you see that we need more research? 
A: I think we need more research in every discipline. First of all, there is a need for better health promotion, because people are not educated. People are not sensitized about their health or certain health issues. I also want to see something being done in respect to climate change. I think there is a need for research in other diseases connected to human environment interaction – the relationship between disease in relation to the human and animal environment. Today we are abusing the environment, and that abuse is leading to a lot of mutations. That’s why today we have different organisms that usually respond to a particular antibiotic that actually are now resistant because of the environmental abuse. Humans interact with animals, either have pets or as food. It is important that studies are intensified in this area, to see the interaction between animals and humans. Major tropical diseases are on the rise. A key area which I am very interested in is noncommunicable diseases. In the next 20-50 years, noncommunicable diseases will be the talk of the day. In our time we have a change of lifestyle, in most contexts it is a form of enjoyment that has negative consequences. After 30 years people will become very ill without even being diagnosed. These diseases tend to be typical to manage but expensive. They are extremely undiagnosed in African settings. That is to say, people only go to the hospital only when they feel sick. They don’t go for regular check ups, and this may be because of their economic status. So somebody can have diabetes and doesn't know they do, then one day they will have complications that continue to worsen. Yet, most of the time, they won’t realize they are truly sick until it is too late. 

Q: Is there anything that you have always wanted to do research on?
A: Public health is something that is a passion for me. So, I want to do a lot of work in respect to assessing knowledge in different health aspects. I want to make sure that people can get the right knowledge and understand health policies. The noncommunicable diseases I spoke about, in particular diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, cervical cancer, and hopefully vaccinology. In the long run, I hope to have the right opportunities and the skills so that I can contribute to vaccine development.  I also want to do a lot of research on reproductive health – with women especially – and STDs. I have the concept mapped up and am building this concept for the future. 

Q: What has been your most exciting/rewarding finding from your past research?
A: There are a number of them! I have done research on a couple of diseases – hepatitis, cervical cancer, HIV, and knowledge & attitude & practice towards oral medication on pregnant women. Some of the most interesting findings that I have had was when I was among the first to actually do a study on cryptosporidiosis in Cameroon. We published in 2019, it has had two citations so far. When we did this, we were trying to map out the final prevalence of cryptosporidiosis among children 0-4 who were not immunocompromised. Most research done on cryptosporidiosis focused on immunocompromised patients, that's why this was important. We found out that the prevalence was actually about 10.4, this was a very interesting result. However, there were no funds to continue on to do molecular characterization and storage of the samples, so we had to discard the research. For the past six years, I have worked on self-medication in pregnant women in two regions of Cameroon, the north-west and the south-west region. In the north-west region we realized the prevalence of self-medication in pregnant women was very high as a result of the conflict in that zone. They don’t have the proper health knowledge and don’t realize the dangers this can cause, because of this we published so that the public can see and learn. 

Q: What research have you done that you have found the most enjoyable?
A: I am very excited when I am doing research around reproductive health, noncommunicable diseases, and cervical cancer. I do not have just one thing that I am excited about doing. I feel excited when I feel as if we can do something. I’ll think of a topic to research and call some colleagues and see if we can get materials together to run research. Most of our research is not funded, so it is difficult for us alone. 

Q: Is there any research that you are currently working on that you can talk about?
A: Right now the research I am doing is on animals, I am focusing on diabetes and trying to use probiotics. For us here, we don’t have easy access to probiotics. So I am extracting them from natural resources, particularly probiotics in lactic acid material from local fermented milk and palm wine. I have been extracting the probiotics and inducing early diabetes type 1 in the mice. Generally after inducing the mice, they go into a hypoglycemic state. We have realized so far in our research that probiotics may have hypoglycemic effects. If we can have more advanced labs that can standardize probiotics, we suspect it can be helpful with diabetes. Hopefully in two or three months this will be published. 

Q: You just got back from searching for sites across Africa, what was the first step to this? How did you go about finding the right sites for research? 
A: The first thing you need to know is the area of where the site is, so you have to map the area. You do this by sourcing information online, so you know where you are going. Then you try and confirm this information with correspondence, we do this either by mail or by asking colleagues who are in the particular zone. It is important to find a site that has specifically what you are looking for. This information probably won’t be online, so that is why you need to ask the site or a colleague in the particular area. In my experience, very few people will respond to mail, it is easier when you talk to them fiscally. Finally, once you have confirmed those places, you have to ask how many people in this are suitable candidates for your research? How accessible is the area? What is your sample size? Can they provide you with enough participants? Once you know this information, you can then decide which sites you will use and what you will need from them. 

Q: What makes a good site?
A: It will depend on the kind of research you are carrying out. If I want to carry out qualitative research where my idea is just to assess people's knowledge or get questionnaires, I may not be interested in an area that has a small population. But, if I have to obtain samples and biological specimens, the next question I have to ask is what is the condition of storage of samples? How long are they supposed to be at room temperature? And if it is not supposed to be for long, is there a possibility of having a lab that can properly store the samples? All of these logistic factors matter. The next thing is the acceptability of the area, what is the research perspective of the area? Are they friendly to research? Your safety is also important. Maybe you want to take samples and they are hesitant and feel like you are a danger. 

Q: How did you start working with Infiuss?
A: Actually my start with Infiuss was a recommendation. Infiuss wanted to do a trial, and they gave me the opportunity to study what I wanted to research. I then designed a research on chlamydia and cervical cancer, we had over 240 participants. After that I ended up becoming the head of research at Infiuss. 

Q: Do you like working at a startup? 
A: I like working at a startup, I am somebody that is dynamic and can work in any environment. I do a lot of multitasking. It is interesting because at a start you are able to propose ideas and you have colleagues who can criticize you, but in the end together you create a final version. There is something you get to learn at a startup that you wouldn’t get at a large organization. If you have ideas that can change an aspect, you can implement it. 

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