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December 16, 2003

EA Projects Win World Bank Grants

From: East African, Uganda - Dec 16, 2003


A TANZANIAN project using rats to detect tuberculosis and a Kenyan initiative teaching Aids awareness through Kiswahili sign language are among the winners of a World Bank competition that awards grants for creative responses to development challenges.

The two East African projects were chosen along with 45 other winners out of 2,700 proposals submitted by sponsoring groups throughout the developing world. A total of $250,000 in award money will be shared by the Tanzanian and Kenyan schemes.

Screening for tuberculosis could become faster and cheaper as a result of research being conducted at Sokoine University of Agriculture in Morogoro, Tanzania.

Scientists at the university working with Apopo, a Belgian non governmental organisation, are training rats to sniff out TB bacteria in human saliva samples. A single rat detection unit could process more than 2,000 samples in one day compared with the maximum 20 samples analysed per day in a laboratory using a microscope.

"This is an innovative, faster and more efficient approach because it requires neither highly qualified staff nor expensive equipment," the Sokoine-Apopo team said in its entry to the World Bank’s global competition. The Tanzanian project will receive $163,780.

About 40 per cent of the estimated 60,000 Tanzanian tuberculosis cases are found in HIV-infected people. But if detected early enough, TB can be treated effectively, even in HIV-positive patients.

Scientists at Sokoine have also successfully trained the African giant pouched rats to detect land mines.

The winning Kenyan project aims at reducing transmission of HIV among the country’s deaf people, estimated at between 300,000 and 600,000.

The Nairobi-based GrassRoot Alliance for Community Education, the project’s sponsor, notes that an HIV-prevention curriculum does not exist in sign language form and that no Kenyan health professionals are certified as proficient in Kiswahili sign language.

"The deaf community is secluded from the mainstream population largely through the country's 35 boarding schools for the deaf," the Alliance says in its World Bank grant application. "Many deaf people are illiterate with regard to printed and spoken English and Kiswahili, and sign language is the main form of communication."

A study suggests that a majority of teenage deaf students in Kenya know little about HIV, the Alliance adds. "The results are devastating."

Many deaf children "become sexually active and pregnant at a young age and are more prone to sexual abuse than their peers who can hear," the Alliance says.

It will receive $85,293 from the World Bank to develop a peer-educator programme that teaches HIV prevention in Kiswahili sign language.

"At a time when we are in a race to attain the Millennium Development Goals – and achieve a new balance between rich and poor nations – the need for creative ideas and uncommon partnerships is ever greater," World Bank President James Wolfensohn said in announcing the projects that will share in the $6 million prize money.

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