GHI-One Health Center-West Africa in Sierra Leone to expand One Health collaboration efforts locally and globally

The UW-Madison Global Health Institute (GHI) is pleased to share exciting updates regarding the opening of a GHI One Health Center-West Africa (GHI-OHC-WA) in Sierra Leone, under the leadership and direction of Alhaji N’jai, PhD.

The GHI-OHC-WA launch signifies the start of the Sierra Leone Abbott Pandemic Defense Coalition Acute Febrile Illness (AFI) Surveillance and Diagnostic research work with five major hospital sentinel sites in Freetown, including Connaught, 34 Military Hospital, Ola During Children’s Hospital, Choitrams and Rokupa, as well as the Central Public Health Reference Laboratory (CPHRL). Three staff members from each hospital and CPHRL, in addition to four lab technicians and six research students, support the Center’s efforts.

“It’s the Wisconsin Idea and taking it and creating a strong footprint in Africa, and there’s no [better place] than having it in Sierra Leone and West Africa,” N’jai said in an interview with GHI.

Sierra Leone was especially impacted during the 2014 Ebola crisis, which, compounded by food insecurity, clean water access and climate change, can be a hotbed for infectious disease outbreaks.

“In Sierra Leone, we do have a lot of issues where people suffer from acute febrile illnesses that sometimes go on for all their lives undiagnosed,” N’jai continued. “GHI One Health Center-West Africa will strengthen our capacity for detection, for identification, and for characterization of epidemic pathogens, and it will also enable our preparedness and effective response.”

This Center is a continuation of N’jai’s work at UW-Madison and in Sierra Leone, from starting a radio program to help educate his home countrymen on how to protect themselves from Ebola as a research fellow at the School of Veterinary Medicine and GHI, to partnering with GHI Advisory Committee Member Yoshihiro Kawaoka, DVM, MS, PhD, to continue studying the Ebola virus. With GHI-OHC-WA, N’jai emphasized that the support from and collaboration with UW-Madison is essential for tackling this work head on.

I’ve always felt that UW-Madison has enormous capacity — and there is a lot of opportunity to create a footprint within Africa and create a difference in a lot of areas from infectious disease, agriculture, environmental research and other areas, which can all be harnessed under the One Health umbrella,” N’jai said.

“The GHI One Health Center West Africa affords the opportunity to continue expanding the Wisconsin Idea globally,” GHI Director Jorge Osorio, DVM, PhD, MS, said.

“With the launch of GHI 2.0 in 2022, our top priority was to establish One Health Centers in the Americas, Africa and Asia as model sites for interdisciplinary collaboration and training for research, outreach and education, and for respectful, mutually beneficial engagement,” Osorio continued. “The One Health Center in Sierra Leone helps us build a global health network that connects academia, government, corporations, military, and communities to tackle the same goal: to build healthier communities and a healthier world under the One Health model and save human lives.”

A look inside the new GHI-One Health Center-West Africa in Sierra Leone.

GHI-OHC-West Africa is partnered with Project 1808, the Abbott Pandemic Defense Coalition, the Ministry of Health, University of Sierra Leone, and the Institut de Recherche en Santé de Surveillance Epidemiologique et de Formation (IRESSEF).

Alhaji N’jai is currently a lecturer in the Departments of Microbiology, College of Medicine and Allied Health Sciences (COMAHS) and Biological Sciences, Fourah Bay College, University of Sierra Leone. He also holds an honorary research fellow position in the Department of Pathobiological Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. N’jai is the founder and chief strategist for Project 1808, Inc, a nonprofit and Sierra Leone community-based organization, whose mission is to transform communities through education linked to service, innovation, cultural empowerment and skills development. Since 2014, he has led the Ebola control and infectious disease emerging in Africa (IDEA) initiative that has resulted in the establishment of international collaborative projects between the University of Sierra Leone and the University of Wisconsin-Madison. N’jai is currently a technical advisor for the Directorate of Health Securities and Emergencies at the Sierra Leone Ministry of Health and Sanitation and a national consultant for the formation of the National Public Health Agency, and serves as chairman of the One Health Technical Working Group in Sierra Leone.