Mitigating the negative impacts of the MMP

Travelling to Africa to drive a brand new expensive luxury car is not everyone’s idea of the best way to conduct field research into malaria. Here, we want to articulate what we perceive to be the potential negative impacts of our trip and the steps that we are taking to mitigate against them.

We welcome your comments and constructive criticisms (be friendly!) to other aspects of our expedition that we’ve missed and which may not sit comfortably with you. Get in touch in the comments section below!

Environmental sustainability

We are aware that driving a diesel car across Africa is not the most environmentally friendly thing to do, but we believe the scientific benefits of our expedition outweigh these concerns, and that this expedition could not realistically be achieved any other way.

Nevertheless, we are constantly thinking about ways to offset the climate impact of our work. Whilst we will never win an argument based on our use of unsustainable fossil fuels, our main sponsors Jaguar Land Rover (JLR) use 100% renewable electricity to power their operations in the UK, indicating they, at least over the short term whilst vehicles are built with combustion engines, more sustainable options are used when they’re available.

JLR have also reduced their tailpipe emissions by a third in the last decade, and the specific vehicle we will be driving is Land Rover’s All New Discovery, which is now fitted with a particulate filter to further reduce emissions.

Our flights from London to Namibia and back from Kenya are another source of carbon emissions. These economy flights will contribute 1.31 metric tons of CO2 emissions each. We have chosen to offset these by donating to schemes generating renewable energy in developing countries, which not only assist in reducing carbon emissions but also invest in local economies.

We are shipping the car (much more environmentally friendly than flying it!) with support from the leading global logisitics company DB Schenker, who have already reduced CO2 emissions from ocean transport by 60% since 2013, by optimising vessel size, fuel, routes and aerodynamics and have ambitious plans to achieve further reductions by 2020.

We’ve also partnered with Kathmandu for some premium outdoor equipment and clothing, something we’re particularly excited about because of their commitment to environmental sustainability – from achieving zero waste to reducing and offsetting their carbon use and making clothing from recycled and responsible materials.

Decolonising science

In 1900, Sir Ronald Ross, winner of the Nobel Prize for Medicine for discovering how malaria was transmitted, spoke about his malaria expedition to West Africa:

In the coming century, the success of Imperialism will depend largely upon success with the microscope. EDITORIAL (1900) SCIENCE 11 262 p36

At the time, science and colonialism were deeply linked.

118 years later, for researchers from global north, decolonising field research – particularly in sub-Saharan Africa – is a major issue. Decolonisation is the movement to eliminate, or at least mitigate, the disproportionate legacy of white European thought and culture in science. Although we are three scientists from Oxford University, we will partner with local scientists in each of the countries we’re visiting.

In addition to our aim to document and communicate the range of science being conducted in Africa, by Africans, we will work on two sequencing projects, which will be co-led by our colleagues in Zambia and Kenya. All African collaborators will be appropriately acknowledged as authors on all scientific outputs of the study.  These partnerships with government and research institutions will ensure that our work is locally owned, relevant and sustainable. The aim for this expedition is very much to put novel tools in the hands of Africa scientists, so that they can do the research that they deem necessary for their country.

Whilst the Mobile Malaria Project is a unique expedition, it is part of a broader scheme of work. The researchers on the Mobile Malaria Project also work for Malaria Genetic Epidemiology Network (MalariaGEN), a global scientific network founded in 2005 that works in 36 different countries and develops ethical policies to supports genomic data-sharing in low- and middle-income settings. The Mobile Malaria Project is not a standalone project, plans are being made to continue the partnerships forged as part of the MMP, including reciprocal visits from African scientists to the University of Oxford and the Wellcome Sanger Institute.

The study is approved by ethics committees in the UK, Zambia and Kenya ensuring that the local impacts of the Mobile Malaria Project is scrutinised at every stage.