Almost a year ago, one of the runaway news stories at the 47th Union World Conference on Lung Health in Liverpool was the revelation that a vet had caught animal (or zoonotic) tuberculosis (TB) while treating a wildebeest.
That this story could make mainstream headlines was indicative of the increased profile of this variant of TB – an issue which the World Health Organization (WHO) has described as being neglected for decades.
For Dr Adrian Muwonge, Chair of The Union’s Zoonotic TB Sub-Section and member of the Coordinating Committee of Scientific Activities (CCSA) that, each year, selects the scientific content for the world conference, this was testament to the role the conference has played in increasing awareness of the chronic and debilitating infection of zoonotic TB.
“The conference is the perfect forum for raising the profile of zoonotic TB. All the stakeholders are in attendance, including medical practitioners, microbiologists, activists, epidemiologists, veterinarians, politicians, the biomedical industry and the media. So we have used the platform of the conference to reach the world – and the world is starting to listen.”
He adds, “We have built significant momentum across the tripartite partners - the World Health Organization, the UN Food and Agricultural Organization and The World Organization for Animal Health - to develop a global policy for zoonotic TB.”
It was Adrian’s expertise in zoonotic TB that first brought him to the attention of The Union when he was invited by the Zoonotic TB Sub-Section to present his PhD work at the 2012 conference in Kuala Lumpur.
“After this meeting, I was hooked. I then applied for the post of the Programme Secretary and I believe I am the youngest person to serve in the both capacities (Secretary 2013-2015 and Chair 2015-2017) to date.”
Adrian combines his role as Chair of the Zoonotic TB Sub-Section with his research work at the Universities of Edinburgh in the UK and Makerere in Uganda.
“My typical work-day starts at 6:30 am. I have to juggle between my research work and the work as the Chair of the Zoonotic TB Sub-Section. I’m pretty organised now.
“Between 06:30-08:00 I work on activities related to the CCSA at The Union, these usually include writing reports and applications, organising the zoonotic TB symposia at the annual world conference, and CCSA teleconferences. From 08:45- 17:30, I work on my research projects which up until recently focused on TB at the human-animal interface in Africa.
“As of 1 March 2017, in my BBSRC future leader fellowship, I started a new strand of research aimed at understanding the fundamental basis of antibiotic resistance (AMR) development within the gut system of humans and their animals in Uganda.”
With the demands of two of the world’s leading universities, it would be tempting to wonder how Adrian manages to continue his active role within the Zoonotic TB Sub-Section, and why he maintains his commitment. He is adamant in his response: “It punches beyond its weight. This is mostly because of the dedicated work ethic of the committee members. It’s easy to work with colleagues when we all have common goals.”
Those goals are to highlight the hidden global double burden caused by Mycobacterium bovis to the herdsmen and their cattle and to develop global policy aimed at limiting the impact caused by M.bovis to the human-animal interface.
As in previous years, the programme at the 48th Union World Conference on Lung Health in Guadalajara, will be highlighting the latest science around this subject that has taken it from a curiosity to being recognised as one of the major issues facing TB elimination worldwide.
Adrian says, “For me, The Union has found an ingenious way to voluntarily bring together international TB experts to find specific solutions for global TB control – nowhere is this more evident than in the field of zoonotic TB.”
He adds, “My support and inspiration comes from my wife, Patience Ashemeire. There is so much going on in my life right now. I’m excited to start my own family and I’m excited to be one of the firebrands who will move the frontiers of global AMR research. And I still find time to play the drums…in fact, I can’t stop playing them, I am terrible company in the vicinity of drum kits!”
The 48th Union World Conference on Lung Health takes place in Guadalajara, 11-14 October. Register here.