When someone chooses to study veterinary science, quite often it’s been a lifelong dream, perhaps kick-started by a family pet in childhood being looked after by a friendly local vet. But for Churchill PhD Student Dr Chioma Achi (G17), veterinary medicine chose her.
At the time of deciding what to study at higher education, Chioma was initially more interested in studying a more “traditional” science. In her native Nigeria, rather than being able to find out what a course is like before applying, you have to take the plunge and hope the course suits.
Thankfully for Chioma, the decision was a good one. She found the different anatomy between species and how they relate to each other and to humans fascinating. She saw veterinary science as a bridge between human and animal medicine, and never has this been more crucial than in 2020 with the Covid-19 pandemic.
It was in 2014 that Chioma’s focus shifted from clinic work to veterinary public health, and she found that the gaps in research in the developing world was key. Speaking of this move, Chioma said “I wanted to be part of the solution by creating a niche role”. This niche role included looking at food poisoning caused by salmonella, which is incredibly common in Nigeria, with high levels of resistance and reoccurrence of infections. Chioma wanted to understand why treatment was failing to resolve infections, and this is where her focus on antimicrobial resistance began. “Understanding why the problem exists and exactly what it is is key.”
Chioma recently won the early career researcher award at the University’s Vice Chancellor Research Impact and Engagement Awards. She was recognised for organising an engagement programme across Nigeria to strengthen the participation of poultry farmers in the fight against antimicrobial resistance. The outcome of that research, as well informing policy makers about the risk of antimicrobial resistance (something Chioma calls a slow moving pandemic), is that it bought a lot of ownership to the farmers. The participants saw that they needed to be sustainable in the long term, and that stopping the spread of antimicrobial resistance was something they all have responsibility for. “They now understand the problem is about personal health, animals, community health, that it has an economic impact. The highlight of the programme was to see the farmers come up with action plans”. When asked how it felt to win the award, Chioma was truly delighted “It’s the fulfilment of knowing something you have done out of passion and commitment to impact society has been recognised. It’s motivated me to want to do more! I’m not stopping.”
Now her work informs therapeutic decisions and policies, and in the time of Covid-19, it has never seemed so publicly important. When speaking of the pandemic, Chioma’s passion for her subject really shines through. “The beauty of science is that one thing ties to another. You can’t address Covid in isolation without looking at the increase in use of antimicrobials. In Nigeria, people can get any antibiotics they need off the shelf and they are often used as a quick fix. But the government and the communities need to understand that their short term fix is a long term problem for all of us.”
When asked if she ever feels overwhelmed by the scale of the issue of antimicrobial resistance, Chioma seems anything but. “This problem hasn’t been handled at the rate it should have been in low resource environments. We need more funding and more government commitment. Research has seen transmission of certain types between humans and animals, so we need funding to design new therapeutics and research how we can better preserve remaining antimicrobials. It’s a huge problem affecting loads of people and needs all hands on deck.” And with Chioma being one of those pairs of hands, we feel optimistic that the powers that be may start to listen. As she said herself, she’s not stopping.