UVRI in the Press - 2011
- Last Updated on Thursday, 13 November 2014 11:07
Virus Institute warns of yellow fever outbreak
The New Vision: July 19, 2011
By Gladys Kalibbala
RESEARCHERS at Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI), Entebbe have warned of a possible outbreak of yellow fever due to the encroachment on Ziika forest located around Kisubi on the shores of Lake Victoria in Wakiso district.
Researchers are concerned that people have encroached on the buffer zone which is supposed to be 300meters from the boundaries of the forest.
“They have instead put residential structures at the edge of the forest which is dangerous not only for their lives but the whole nation,” observed Dr. Josephine Birungi.
UVRI deputy director, Dr. Louis Mukwaya explains that the deadly mosquito “Aedes africanus” known to transmit yellow fever from monkeys to human was first traced in Ziika forest in 1971.
Dr. Mukwaya however, accuses Wakiso district land Board for issuing land titles to the occupants.
He said UVRI will with immediate effect clear its boundaries and later advise the concerned authorities to evict those found in the buffer zone of 300metres.
“We immediately vaccinated the people around Kisubi that time and isolated the mosquito by keeping the public off the forest, “he said.
Mukwaya explained that the known “Aedes africanus” behavior is to stay inside the forest but adds that once it bites someone there, the person may infect a large population.
“This may occur when the same person is again bitten by another type of mosquito known as “Aedes simpsoni” (this one stays in the community),” he explained. Since “Aedes simpsoni” stays in the community it can easily transmit the fever to a number of people getting it from the first victim.
Mukwaya expressed worry that the encroachment may force the deadly mosquito to change its behavior and start feeding on human blood.
“Unfortunately between 10 to 20% of the people who get the disease will die so it’s important to avoid it,” Dr. Birungi advised.
East Africa: Health Experts Fight Deadly Fevers
East African Business Week, July 17, 2011
Arusha — A meeting of EAC experts on Viral Hemorrhagic Fevers (VHFs) took place in Entebbe, Uganda to devise strategies to counter the various VHFs the region is susceptible to.
These fevers, most of which are fatal, include Ebola, rift valley fever, yellow fever and Marburg fever. The 12-14 July experts' meeting hosted at the Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI) was part of a process to formulate a regional policy to address the frequent outbreaks of various VHFs in the EAC Partner States and neighboring countries. It will also discuss integrated disease surveillance and response.
Over the last three decades, EAC Partner States have experienced recurrent outbreaks of Viral Hemorrhagic Fevers including yellow fever (most recently in Uganda), Marburg fever, Ebola, and rift valley fever (Kenya in 2006/2007 and Tanzania in 2007).
Opening the meeting, EAC Secretary General Amb. Dr. Richard Sezibera noted that although the incidence of Viral Hemorrhagic Fevers was not regular compared to infectious or vector borne diseases like tuberculosis or malaria, their impact was enormous, especially due to their high case fatality rates.
In a speech read on his behalf by the EAC Principal Health Officer, Dr. Stanley Sonoiya, the Secretary General observed that outbreaks of VHFs often take long to detect and confirm due to limited financial, technical, infrastructural and human resources as well as organizational and institutional capacity to mount effective and sustained emergency preparedness and response at national and regional levels.
He thus urged Partner States to utilize funding secured from the World Bank to initiate sustainable long-term measures to address the frequent outbreaks of these deadly fevers and rallied EAC to join hands with specialized technical agencies to develop and implement a "robust" EAC Regional Viral Hemorrhagic Fevers Strategic Emergency Preparedness and Contingency Plan: 2012-2016.
The proposed Contingency Plan seeks to, among others, raise the regional capacity to respond to the VHFs and other emerging and re-emerging diseases of epidemic and pandemic potential in East Africa. Over the last five decades, Africa has suffered frequent outbreaks of Ebola, rift valley fever, yellow fever Marburg hemorrhagic fever, among other special pathogens while EAC States have suffered VHFs over the last three decades.
Rwanda: Regional Health Experts Meet Over Deadly Fevers
The New Times, July 15, 2011
By Eric Kabeera
East African experts on Viral Hemorrhagic Fevers (VHFs) are meeting in Uganda to devise strategies to counter the various VHFs affecting the region.
The fevers, most of which are fatal, include Ebola, Rift Valley Fever, Yellow Fever and Marburg fever.
The two-day meeting hosted by the Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI) is part of a process to formulate a regional policy to address the frequent outbreaks of various VHFs among EAC member states and neighbouring countries.
Opening the meeting, the EAC Secretary General, Dr. Richard Sezibera noted that although the incidence of VHFs was not regular compared to infectious or vector borne diseases like tuberculosis or malaria, their impact was enormous, especially due to their high fatality rates.
He observed that outbreaks of VHFs often take long to detect and confirm, due to limited financial, technical, infrastructural and human resources as well as organisational and institutional capacity to mount effective emergency preparedness and response at national and regional levels.
He urged EAC member states to join hands with specialised technical agencies to develop and implement a "robust" EAC Regional Viral Hemorrhagic Fevers Strategic Emergency Preparedness and Contingency Plan between 2012 and 2016.
The proposed Contingency Plan seeks to, among others; raise the regional capacity to respond to the VHFs and other emerging and re-emerging diseases of epidemic and pandemic potential in East Africa.
The head of other Epidemic Infectious Diseases unit at Rwanda Biomedical Centre, Dr Thierry Nyatanyi, noted that Rwanda has a surveillance system was put in place to detect such fevers.
"So far, we (Rwanda) have never recorded any case of these fevers," he said.
Dr Nyatanyi further acknowledged that harmonisation of policies on regional level was necessary to continue fighting VHFs that have become prevalent in some regional countries.
"If we have a strong collaboration in all EAC member countries, we shall be able to share knowledge and fight this problem," he said.
East Africa: Experts Declare War On Viral Fevers
The Citizen, July 13, 2011
Arusha — Health experts from the East African Community (EAC) partner states are meeting in Entebbe, Uganda, to devise strategies to counter Viral Haemorrhagic Fevers (VHFs) in the region.
The fatal diseases under the category include ebola, rift valley, yellow and marburg fevers. The three day meeting which is hosted at the Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI) ends today and is part of a process to formulate a regional policy to address the frequent outbreaks of various VHFs in the region as well as the neighbouring countries. It has also discussed integrated disease surveillance and response.
Over the last three decades, the EAC member countries have experienced recurrent outbreaks of Viral Haemorrhagic Fevers, including yellow fever (most recently in Uganda), Marburg fever, Ebola, and rift valley fever in Kenya in 2006 and 2007 as well as in Tanzania in 2007.
Opening the meeting, the EAC secretary general, Dr Richard Sezibera, noted that although the incidence of Viral Hemorrhagic Fevers was not regular, when compared to infectious or other diseases like tuberculosis or malaria, their impact was enormous, especially due to their high fatality rates.
The EAC principal health officer, Dr Stanley Sonoiya, observed that outbreaks of VHFs often take long to detect and confirm because of limited financial, technical, infrastructural and human resources, as well as organisational and institutional capacity to mount effective and sustained emergency preparedness and response at national and regional levels.
He urged partner states to utilise funding secured from the World Bank to initiate sustainable long-term measures to address the frequent outbreaks of these deadly fevers. He also rallied EAC to join hands with specialised technical agencies to develop and implement a robust EAC Regional Viral Hemorrhagic Fevers Strategic Emergency Preparedness and Contingency Plan 2012-2016.
The proposed contingency plan seeks to, among others, raise the regional capacity to respond to the VHFs and other emerging and re-emerging diseases of epidemic and pandemic potential in East Africa, according to a press release issued by the EAC secretariat in Arusha yesterday.
Over the last five decades, Africa has suffered frequent outbreaks of Ebola, rift valley fever, yellow fever and Marburg hemorrhagic fever, among other special pathogens, while EAC Partner States have also experienced recurrent outbreaks of these VHFs over the last three decades.
Scientists see promising Aids vaccine future
The Sunday Monitor, May 22, 2011
By Evelyn Lirri
Scientists speak out on Aids vaccine
Prof. Pontiano Kaleebu is one of Africa’s foremost Aids vaccine researchers having been part of the team that conducted the first Aids vaccine trial on the continent in Uganda in 1999. He is now the director of the Medical Research Council at the Uganda Virus Research Institute. He tells Sunday Monitor’s Evelyn Lirri the challenges of trying to find a vaccine 30 years into the epidemic and why there is now light at the end of the tunnel.
We have had successes in managing HIV/Aids but not in a vaccine. Why?
We at the Uganda Virus Research Institute are doing a lot of research that will help us find a vaccine. We do research in humans to try and find out what should a vaccine do.
For instance, we still do studies to look at people who get infected and they progress very quickly to Aids and those who take a long time to get Aids and we compare to see why some people take long. We also look at those who get exposed to the virus and don’t get infected.
If we find out why some people don’t get infected, that can contribute to finding a vaccine. These are the laboratory studies we are doing now.
But we continue to do vaccine trials and two weeks ago we started on two new trials--one in Entebbe and the other in Masaka. These trials are funded by the International Aids Vaccine Initiative. Although they are being conducted by two groups, we are testing the same vaccine.
Which kind of people are taking part in these trials?
We are testing these vaccines in low-risk individuals who are HIV negative because we are still trying to find out whether these vaccines can lead to people to produce the right immune responses—antibodies or T-cells.
It’s going to run for about two years.
In recent years, there have been some promising clinical trials although most of them are out of Uganda. What do they mean for your local efforts here?
Recently we have had a few breakthroughs in HIV prevention. First, it was the Thailand trials with a vaccine that protected a few individuals and scientists are using that information to find out how did these vaccines protect individuals and they are using that information to produce better vaccines.
Currently, we have better vaccines that have been tested in humans using the same method and concept as that vaccine used in the Thailand trial.
Outside HIV vaccines, there have also been some breakthroughs in using antiretroviral based prevention approaches—microbicides having gels that have anti-retroviral like the trial that was conducted in South Africa and also doing what we call PREP—individuals taking medicine if they are exposed and these medicines preventing them from getting infected. There were results in Thailand again that showed that this approach can prevent infection in gay men.
Then the other trial that came out recently that has made scientists very excited is the trial that was conducted in discordant couples where treatment was given very early in HIV positive individuals.
It showed that if we give antiretroviral to these people then they are not able to infect their partners who are HIV negative by up to 96 per cent.
Are these trials going to be replicated here?
For this trial of treating HIV positive people to prevent transmission, we now know that it works.
But the challenge is how to implement it. These other trials of PREP and microbicides, yes they are going to be repeated and in fact in Uganda within MRC we are working with the International Partnership on Microbicides to start a trial in a few months time that contains one of these drugs to be used as a microbicide ring. We are at preparatory stages.
Does this mean we have to put more people on ARVs when their CD4 count is very high and what would be the cost implications of doing this?
If we have people who are in a discordant relationship—the earlier you start the one who is positive on treatment early the better.
If you can counsel them, do Voluntary Counseling and Testing (VCT) and start them on treatment, the better in preventing them from infecting their partners.
The challenge will be the cost implication and getting people to go for VCT because many people are in these discordant relationships when they don’t know that one is infected. You will need more drugs and this gets even more expensive.
What are the challenges for a scientist working on a complex subject like HIV/Aids research in a developing country like Uganda?
One of the biggest challenges we face is lack of funding. A lot of the funding we get is from donors and you need to write competitive proposals to get this funding and yet you are also competing with other very good scientists globally so getting money is a challenge.
But also when we get scientists and train them, retaining them is a challenge because the pay is low. So we try and get external funding to supplement on their salaries in order to retain them. Unfortunately, our governments do not have enough money to fund research.
How long do we have to wait for a vaccine?
I don’t want to put timelines anymore because that is the question everyone is asking me—when shall we have a vaccine. Once we said in the next 10 years we shall have a vaccine, that time passed and we still don’t have one. But recent breakthroughs have already provided us with important clues which should eventually lead to better and effective vaccines.
So what’s the way forward?
Generally, we are saying we should come up with as many new HIV prevention approaches as possible. Before we have a vaccine, we need a combination of prevention methods but there must be a lot of efforts to find a vaccine because in the long term the best way to prevent new infections will be having a good vaccine.
If you have a good vaccine, it gets cheaper and it’s easier than using drugs. Drugs have their complications like side effects and also changing human behavior is still a challenge but a vaccine is the best hope.
We still Who is Dr Kaleebu?
Prof. Pontiano Kaleebu is the Director at the Medical Research Council/Uganda Virus Research Institute (Research unit on Aids). He is a board member of the newly formed Africa Aids Vaccine Programme which Uganda is hosting.
Besides this, he is the head of the MRC-UVRI basic sciences programme. According to the MRC website, Prof. Kaleebu is also the deputy director for research at the UVRI and head of Immunology department at the same institute.
Previously, he worked as the executive director of the UVRI-IAVI vaccine programme until December 2010.
As a leading Aids vaccine researcher, Prof. Kaleebu holds the title of honorary professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Faculty of Infectious and Tropical Diseases and a visiting Reader at the Imperial College London Chelsea and Westminster’s department of Investigative Sciences.
He was also awarded the 2010 fellowship by the Imperial College of London Faculty of medicine for his outstanding contribution to HIV research and particularly vaccine development
“Fellowships of the Imperial College Faculty of Medicine are awarded to persons who are not members of the faculty but who are of outstanding distinction in fields related to medical science or particularly supportive of the aims and vision of the faculty, “said Prof. Stephen Smith, the principal of the College while announcing Prof. Kaleebu’s nomination for the award.
With his vast experience in the world of HIV/Aids and vaccine development in particular, Prof. Kaleebu has served on several national and international committees including the World Health Organization HIV vaccine advisory committee and the Global HIV Vaccine Enterprise Scientific committee.
The highly acclaimed professor started his medical career in Uganda after graduating in 1986 with a degree of medicine from Makerere University and later studied for a diploma in Immunology and a doctorate degree at the Royal Postgraduate Medical School, Hammersmith Hospital and St Mary’s Hospital part of University of London.
He joined UVRI in 1988 and MRC-UVRI in 1995. His major areas of interest include the protective immune responses against HIV to contribute to the design of an HIV vaccine, HIV vaccine trials, HIV molecular epidemiology and resistance to anti-retroviral drugs.