AfroMont Editorial March 2017: The AfroMont-Mt Kilimanjaro Research Meeting

The AfroMont-Mt Kili mountain research meeting has come and gone and was a small, but satisfying event that brought both African and European scholars together to discuss a wide range of mountain research topics. Presentations covered vegetation change on the slopes of Mt Kilimanjaro to mountain dung beetles, changes in the Pangani River Basin, and even the ancient lineages of endemic Lobelias in the mountains of East Africa. You should come next time – there will be something of interest that will make you think differently about Africa’s very beautiful mountains and the still vast amount of research that is needed to help us understand how they are changing. Attending the conference were new PhD students and seasoned African researchers and policy makers from Tanzania, Kenya, South Africa and Germany. Scientists from other regions wanted to attend but as always, funding for conference travel was a problem. A set of Expanded Abstracts for the AfroMont-Mt Kili conference will be distributed at the end of March 2017. The next AfroMont conference organised for African mountain science will be in Morocco in 2019.

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Delegates at the AfroMont-Mt Kili conference, 22 – 26th February, 2017. Moshi, Tanzania.

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Mt Kibo (credit Claudia Hemp). Mt Kilimanjaro has three volcanic cones, Kibo, Mawenzi and Shira. In this photograph, the iconic Mt Kibo (5895 m asl) is shown in its full glory.

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Street scene, Moshi. The motorbikes are an important form of local transport for hire.

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During the post-conference tour, Dr Andreas Hemp explained the finer points of the Chagga Home garden agroforestry system on the forested slopes of Mt Kilimanjaro (AfroMont-Mt Kili conference 22 – 26th February 2017).

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Chagga home gardens on slopes of Mt Kilimanjaro with banana and coffee. These homesteads are considered a form of sustainable agriculture in that large indigenous trees and the soil are protected from erosion. In some areas, this system has been in place for around 100 years.

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The post-conference tour also took us through the savanna area around Mt Kilimanjaro to visit the crater lake, Lake Challa. The savannah is very arid and degraded now, but used to be wetter and more wooded. Dr Claudia Hemp told the group that she used to collect novel grasshopper species in these localities in the past and that these species are not likely to be found here any longer. Land degradation, along with degradation through invasion by exotic plant species, is one of Africa’s biggest environmental problems.

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The lunch destination for the post conference tour was Lake Chala, a crater lake of some 300 m deep. The water is an unusual blue colour. Sediment cores have been taken from the bottom of the lake as the sediments hold a record of climate stretching back thousands of years in pollen and diatom deposits.

One other thing – did any of the delegates catch on on-flight respiratory virus on the way to the conference or home again? Because I certainly did! This is the third time I’ve done an international flight and caught something.

See this paper for some recent research on this issue.

Hertzberg and Weiss (2016). On the 2-Row Rule for Infectious Disease Transmission on Aircraft. Annals of Global Health Volume 82, Issue 5, September–October 2016, Pages 819–823.

With more than 2 billion airline passengers annually, in-flight transmission of infectious diseases is an important global health concern. Many instances of in-flight transmission have been documented, including cases of cholera, influenza, measles, meningococcal infections, norovirus, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS),shigellosis, and tuberculosis. However, the risks of in-flight transmission are largely unknown. The distance you sit from an infection-carrying fellow passenger is important, as well as the surfaces you touch.

Cabin transmission of infectious diseases can occur through several routes. In this paper we concentrate on droplet transmission, which occurs via respiratory droplets (≥5 microns) propelled short distances (mostly ≤ 1 meter) when an infectious traveler sneezes, coughs, talks, or breathes. Droplets are sufficiently large to be largely impervious to cabin airflow. Direct transmission occurs when pathogen-containing droplets fall onto a susceptible traveler’s conjunctiva or mucosa or are inhaled. Indirect transmission occurs when droplets are deposited onto fomites (surfaces such as tray tables, seat belts, or lavatory door handles) or an infected traveler’s hand. A susceptible traveler who touches these surfaces and then touches her or his conjunctiva or mucosa allows the pathogen to enter the body.

Long-standing guidance by public health agencies is that the primary transmission risk associated with air travel for most respiratory infectious diseases is associated with sitting within 2 rows of an infectious passenger. This transmission zone, which actually comprises 5 rows—2 in front of the index case, 2 behind the index case, and the row in which the index case is seated—has been based on investigations of in-flight transmission of tuberculosis but is believed to have wide applicability. These inflight transmissions highlight how air travel serves as a conduit for rapid spread of newly emerging infections with potential to start pandemics.