DTU helps boost resistance surveillance in Africa and Asia

Thursday 05 Mar 20


Rene S. Hendriksen
Professor, Head of Research Group
National Food Institute
+45 35 88 62 88


Frank Møller Aarestrup
Professor, Head of Research Group
National Food Institute
+45 35 88 62 81


The Fleming Fund is a £265 million UK aid investment to tackle antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in low- and middle-income countries around the world.

The programme was established in response to the urgent need highlighted by the UK’s AMR Review, which called for funding to improve public awareness of AMR, drug use and public health surveillance. 

Specifically, the Fleming Fund seeks to strengthen national AMR surveillance systems and laboratories in Africa and Asia, to develop global frameworks and support AMR governance, and to improve public awareness and global data use.

Read more on the Fleming Fund’s website.

In three new projects, the Technical University of Denmark, is helping African countries to implement whole genome sequencing and assisting the Asian region in getting access to better data in the fight against antimicrobial resistance.

Antimicrobial resistance is a global problem, as antimicrobial resistance in one country can create problems beyond its borders, for example through the export of food or travel. Strong global collaboration is necessary to ensure access to reliable data that will allow decision makers around the world to make knowledge-based decisions on how to tackle this growing problem.

As part of the fight against antimicrobial resistance, the Fleming Fund—a £265 million UK aid programme—has awarded the National Food Institute, Technical University of Denmark, some £10 million to run three projects in Africa and Asia.

Establishing three African reference laboratories 

The 55 countries of the African Union have identified incorporating whole genome sequencing into resistance surveillance – and installing and operating the equipment required to do so – as one of their most pressing needs.

Using whole genome sequencing, it is possible to map out bacteria’s entire DNA profile quickly and relatively inexpensively, thereby identifying the presence of resistance genes among other traits.

In response, the National Food Institute has been tasked with establishing three whole genome sequencing reference laboratories in Nigeria, South Africa and Tanzania. This involves buying and installing equipment for genomic analysis of bacteria and training staff in how to interpret the analytical results. This will enable solid data to be generated on the type and prevalence of antimicrobial resistance across countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

“In its role as WHO Collaborating Centre as well as FAO and EU Reference Laboratory for antimicrobial resistance, the National Food Institute has substantial expertise in building up capacity in laboratories around the world in the use of the latest state–of-the-art technologies. With funding from the Danish International Development Agency, DANIDA, the institute has in fact already established one of the first sequencing laboratories in Africa,” Professor MSO Rene S. Hendriksen explains.

By the time the Fleming Fund project concludes in 2021, the goal is that the three laboratories can use the equipment correctly to generate high quality genomic data to predict the prevalence of antimicrobial resistance. They can also act as reference laboratories to other sub-Saharan countries.

"Ultimately the laboratories will be able to use the data they derive to support decision makers and advise government authorities on what approach to take in the fight against antimicrobial resistance."
Professor Rene S. Hendriksen

“Ultimately the laboratories will be able to use the data they derive to support decision makers and advise government authorities on what approach to take in the fight against antimicrobial resistance,” Rene S. Hendriksen says.

Better quality resistance data

In another project, the Fleming Fund has tasked the National Food Institute and the International Vaccine Institute (IVI), a Seoul, Korea-based nonprofit international organization dedicated to vaccine R&D and delivery, with conducting a mapping exercise in Asia.

The aim is to gain an overview of reference laboratories’ quality assurance systems, including in which proficiency tests they participate to evaluate the laboratories’ performance. If the mapping exercise reveals gaps, the National Food Institute will provide further training and help develop new ring tests that can fill these gaps.

Tailored fellowship

The Fleming Fund has also appointed the National Food Institute as host institution for nine researchers from Ghana and Nigeria, who have been awarded a two-year fellowship. The Institute has worked with each fellow to tailor a programme to fill the knowledge gaps both on an individual and a country level in relation to enhancing the antimicrobial resistance surveillance capability.

Depending on their field of work and expertise, each of the nine fellows will learn about the best ways to design surveillance systems. Teaching will include best practices in sample collection, collation, data analysis, interpretation and dissemination of data on antimicrobial use and resistance, as well as ways to increase the quality of laboratory data.

Among other things, the two-year programme includes online learning and a short residency at the National Food Institute in Denmark alongside professional peers.

Read more

Read more about how the National Food Institute’s research in DNA sequencing techniques helps to establish international standards for the detection, monitoring and study of global spread of pathogenic microorganisms and antimicrobial resistant bacteria.

Demonstration af påvisning af antibiotikaresistens i laboratorium. Foto: DTU Fødevareinstituttet Genomsekventering i et laboratorium. Foto: DTU Fødevareinstituttet

Image left.: Professor Rene S. Hendriksen shows Fleming Fund collaborating partners - including Masami Takeochi from FAO - how to measure antimicrobial resistance. Image right: Lab technician Ephrasia Hugho from the Kilimanjaro Clinical Research Institute in Tanzania is learning how to use equipment that can map out a bacteria's entire genome. Photos: National Food Institute.