Last month, GARP-Tanzania was inaugurated. GARP (the Global Antibiotic Resistance Partnership) is CDDEP s project to create a center of gravity in low- and middle-income countries for involved professionals to think about and take steps toward limiting antibiotic resistance, and to address other antibiotic issues, such as making sure the right drugs are available when and where they re needed. But mainly it s about antibiotic resistance, which means reducing unnecessary use in hospitals (and in the community), which, in turn, means reducing the rate of hospital-acquired infections.

Which brings me to the subject of cockroaches. It may not be the first thing that springs to your mind when you think about antibiotic resistance, but a presentation at the meeting in Dar es Salaam last month sticks in my mind. In Muhimbili National Hospital, cockroaches are everywhere: in the cupboards on supplies, in patient rooms even on patients! Everywhere. But are they vectors for antibiotic resistant bacteria? No one had ever looked into this question until now.

The intrepid Doreen Mloka, a lecturer in pharmaceutical microbiology at Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences, and her colleagues collected several hundred cockroaches from the all around the hospital, rinsed them in saline to capture what was on their surfaces, but little or none of what was inside. They then cultured the bacteria in the saline and lo and behold, found OK, the research is not yet published so I can’t say what they found, but it wasn’t good.

In the United States, cockroaches infest apartments (especially in cities) and they particularly coexist with poverty. Cockroaches are suspected to be at least one factor contributing to the increasing rates of asthma among poor children in the United States. While I doubt that the infestations here are as serious as those in Tanzania, I’d be surprised if our hospitals didn’t have their share of roaches. Do you they also play a role in spreading antibiotic resistance here at home? Perhaps a question worth answering.

Tanzanian cockroach image via mgrimm82/Flickr