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Centre of African Studies: Research


Investigating Networks of Zoonosis Innovation (INZI)

INZI is a five-year project to explore how African trypanosomiasis (commonly known as sleeping sickness) has been researched, controlled and treated from the Second World War to the present day. It is based at the University of Edinburgh, and funded by the European Research Council. The project began in 2012. 


In honour of the tsetse fly that spreads African trypanosomiasis, we borrowed the Swahili word for fly, 'inzi'. Here is what it stands for:

  • 'Investigating' - we are an interdisciplinary research project, exploring case studies - both historical and contemporary - across Africa.
  • 'Networks' - the local, national and transnational processes by which knowledge, technology, and resources circulate. This could be a multi-million pound research project pulling together expertise from across the globe, or a farmer in Uganda learning about a new kind of insecticide.
  • 'Zoonosis' - is any infectious disease that can spread between animals and humans - in our case, African trypanosomiasis.
  • 'Innovation' - technologies and knowledge developed to tackle African trypanosomiasis.

Why African trypanosomiasis?

African trypanosomiasis is a neglected tropical disease. These are a group of diseases that cause significant illness and death in poor countries, but have received far less attention than diseases like HIV and malaria. Developing better control and treatment methods for these diseases has recently become a major global health priority.

Additionally, African trypanosomiasis is a neglected zoonotic disease. Diseases that are transmitted between humans and animals often receive little attention, in spite of their major impact on animal and human health. Zoonotic diseases also raise significant problems for coordinating human health and veterinary research and control programmes.

As well as being under-resourced in terms of health care provision and scientific research, cultural, geographical and political aspects of African trypanosomiasis are poorly understood. We aim to address this by analysing the complex interplay of the actors, policies and projects that have shaped how African trypanosomiasis is understood and controlled. 

issuewordle What do we want to find out?

People have tried to control African trypanosomiasis in a bewildering variety of ways - from ambitious scientific projects to develop a vaccine that rely on new forms of financing and novel instructional structures, to local techniques for identifying sick cattle or trapping insects. Making sense of this range of activities raises important questions: 

How should we make sense of new forms of large-scale philanthropy? What are the consequences of public-private partnerships in drug development and health services? Why is it that some useful, low-tech ideas spread quickly across the world, whereas others remain obscure? 

And by looking at African trypanosomiasis in historical perspective, we aim to trace the evolution of research institutions and technological innovation, as they interacted with, at first, colonial administrations, and later independent African governments.

Behind these specific concerns, we are more broadly interested in the role that science and technology plays in global health and African development. 

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