Thursday, 20 July 2017

UVRI in the Press - 2010

 

2010

 

Aids fight: What we have got from 20 years of research

Sunday Monitor, November 21, 2010 

The first HIV/Aids case was identified in the country along the shores of Lake Victoria in 1982 when Uganda was experiencing political unrest. For the next five years no research about the virus was done because leaders were submerged in power struggle. But as Benon H. Olukawrites, the Uganda Virus Research Institute got down to serious business in 1987 and has never looked back:-

As he reflects on the more than two-decade journey of the Entebbe-based Uganda Virus Research Institute in HIV/Aids research, Executive Director Edward Katongole-Mbidde beams with restrained satisfaction.

In that time, UVRI, which began HIV/Aids research around 1987, has registered a number of significant milestones. In a series of collaborative research initiatives with partners from different countries in Europe and the Americas, UVRI has tracked the spread of HIV/Aids for more than 20 years, carried out the first HIV vaccine trial in Africa, and undertook a trial which showed that the most common disease of the central nervous system in HIV-infected people in Africa could be prevented with a pill.
Propped up by support from the Medical Research Council (MRC) of Britain, UVRI also undertook a trial to develop specialised anti-retroviral therapy for Africa, which helped save money.

In addition, UVRI was the first to isolate more than 20 new arboviruses, including West Nile Virus, Bwamba Fever, Semliki Forest Virus, Orungo, Kadam, and O’nyong’nyong. While UVRI has grown to become the centre for virus research in the country and one of the most renowned on the continent, Dr Katongole-Mbidde says its beginnings were quite modest.

 

Research neglected
The senior researcher explains that in a country that was still embroiled in seemingly endless political turmoil and civil wars up to the 1980s, research and academic pursuits were the last things on the minds of leaders whose tenures were far from guaranteed. Until, that is, the HIV/Aids virus opened a new war front against the people of Uganda. 

“At that time the infrastructure in the country was probably at its worst, but luckily enough we had new leadership which had come into the country under President Museveni and because of the openness of the President and his government regarding the HIV/Aids epidemic, a lot of help started flowing into the country,” he said.

 Initial support for HIV/Aids research at UVRI came from the World Health Organisation’s Aids Control Programme, which later became the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/Aids (UNAIDS), and the UK Overseas Development Agency (ODA), now the Department for International Development (DFID). 
The two provided the support that enabled UVRI to become a national reference laboratory for HIV testing; to isolate and characterise the HIV/Aids virus, as well as train its staff. 

With that support, UVRI started its ground-breaking work on the HIV/Aids virus in Rakai District in 1987; the research that opened the window of opportunity in the fight against HIV/Aids, which eventually saw Uganda receive world-wide recognition as a model in Africa for fighting the disease after halving its prevalence in the 1990s. 

However, according to Dr Katongole-Mbidde, the funding at the time was not sufficient given the magnitude of the problem. When the situation became increasingly desperate as the effects of the HIV/Aids virus escalated, the government sought more help from research-savvy countries and organisations.

Foreign assistance
Consequently, in 1989, after the government invited their British counterparts to offer assistance, the Medical Research Council (MRC) of the UK set up an HIV/Aids unit at UVRI premises. Then, in the mid-1990s, the United States Centre for Disease Control also set up its own centre at UVRI.
Such support helped build research capacity at UVRI and, in 1999, Uganda became the first African country to get involved in HIV vaccines trials – with the institute playing an integral role in that effort.
In early 2000, according to Dr Katongole-Mbidde, the International Aids Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) started collaborating with UVRI on HIV/Aids vaccine research, with their special interest being the potential contribution of Ugandan researchers and the country in general to the initiative.

“Earlier on we really advocated for Africa not to be left behind in this endeavour so each time we went to meetings, we reiterated to the international community and to our own governments to make sure we participated in HIV/Aids vaccine trials,” said Dr Katongole-Mbidde.
However, while there was evident commitment by the Ugandan researchers to lead the HIV/Aids vaccine trials, it was not matched by equipment and human resource capacity needed to be involved at different stages of a vaccine trial. 

Whenever the UVRI needed to carry out more comprehensive tests, according to UVRI officials, samples had to be shipped to laboratories in the United Kingdom or the United States, wasting valuable time and money.

In a bid to reduce such inefficiency, the Uganda government and other partners of UVRI set out to provide the Institute with better equipment and to develop the capacity of its employees. 

The Acting Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health, Dr Kenya Mugisha, says the political instability in the 1970s and 1980s had denied Uganda opportunities to train scientists. He explains that while UVRI is semi-autonomous, the health ministry is mandated to provide guidance and oversee its activities. 

However, according to Dr Mugisha, the government lacked the institutional structures to equip UVRI. “Virus research is a very expensive area,” said Dr Mugisha. “That is a highly specialised area. There is no way we can fund all their activities. What we do is work with partners [and then] oversee what they do.”

One of those transformations is personified in the case of Betty Oliver Auma, a laboratory technician who joined UVRI in 1998. Ms Auma, who has since that time been employed in the Institute’s Immunology Section, where she largely works with a flowcytometer; a machine used to measure the physical and chemical characteristics of cells or other biological particles. 

Initially, Ms Auma carried out her research on the responses of white blood cells to HIV infection using a Facscan flowcytometer machine that enabled cells to be viewed using only three colours. 

But when UVRI acquired an LSRII 18-colour flowcytometer, Ms Auma was not yet trained to operate the new machine efficiently enough for the researchers in the Immunology Department where she is employed to exploit its full potential. 

“I was not trained on how to use the new machine,” she said. “When the institute bought the new machine, the LSR II, I was sent to the National Institute for Communicable Diseases in Johannesburg [South Africa] to train on how to use it.” 

After attending her first training in September 2007, Ms Auma had another training programme in Johannesburg in December 2008. Other UVRI employees are currently having similar specialised training. For instance, Mr Enoch Muyanja is training in the use of a DNA microarray at Florida (USA) and University of Montreal (Canada). A microarray is a powerful tool used to study genes that are switched on during disease processes and vaccinations. Dr Fiona Kalinda is also training in South Africa.

 

Dr Katongole-Mbidde says the three were trained as part of collaborative effort called the Canada-Africa Prevention Trials Network (CAPTN) which brings together researchers from Canada and those from Uganda, Kenya and South Africa. The two-year training programme that UVRI benefitted from, which comprises the first phase of the CAPTN initiative, was developed in 2006 to enable HIV researchers in Africa to acquire knowledge, skills and experience in areas that are critical to effective prevention trial research, including research ethics, epidemiology, community and stakeholder engagement, grant writing and project management.  Dr Katongole-Mbidde believes UVRI is gaining from such programmes. He said: “Ugandan researchers are being trained in high level science and they are coming back to the Institute to work here within our programmes so that the chances of retaining them are very high. So, in a sense, we are preventing brain drain.”

 

The training conducted as part of the first phase of CAPTN has already had some immediate benefits according to Ms Auma. As she conducted a brief tour of the laboratory where she does most of her work, Ms Auma said that her training has been very beneficial. 

“Now we are not incurring expenses to ship samples abroad. We used to send samples to be analysed in the UK and the USA and, you know, the costs we would incur were high but now the technology is here. We can do the work here. Those days we used to preserve samples and ship them but here we get fresh samples and work on them right away. So it has made work easy and we get results in the shortest time possible,” she explained. “We were limited by the three colour machine.” Ms Auma said, “With the new machine I can look at eight so the time taken to perform a study has been shortened so we get quicker answers than before. UVRI has made efforts to multiply the benefits from training undertaken by Ms Auma and others trained by the CAPTN. 

According to Dr Katongole-Mbidde, the plan is to ensure that whoever undergoes any training at UVRI is expected to train colleagues in order to multiply its benefits. Ms Auma has so far trained five of her colleagues at the Institute. 

“When you train a trainer, then you have got a multiplier effect and all these people are involved in training. We are a research institution but part of our mission is to increase knowledge and build capacity,” he explains. 

Dr Katongole-Mbidde believes that the capacity building initiatives provided through training programmes of the kind provided through the CAPTN will ultimately improve their vaccine trials efforts. He said UVRI has over the years built a network that includes researchers from the Infectious Diseases Institute at the Makerere University Medical School, Mbarara University of Science and Technology, and The Aids Support Organisation (Taso), an indigenous HIV/Aids service organisation in Uganda that was founded in 1987. 

“The whole focus is on prevention. We all know in this country that the people who are getting on ARVs every year is outstripped by the number of new infections, which is about 130,000 ever year, so that if we don’t do a lot of work in prevention, the epidemic is not going to be stopped. So there is need to treat those who are HIV/Aids infected but there is also need to put emphasis on preventing those who are not HIV positive from getting infected,” explains Dr Katongole-Mbidde.

 

More programmes
However, there are a series of other programmes through which UVRI has benefitted. The MRC of the UK, among other things, provides training to medical students and young researchers and through support to its partner inst itutions. IAVI on the other hand is involved in training scientists to carry out vaccine trials. 

Having started humbly and eventually developed world renowned scientists, Dr Katongole-Mbidde believes the sky is the limit for UVRI in its HIV/Aids research efforts.

 

“We are among only a few centres on the African continent which are really developing this capacity,” he said. “We think we are ready to be able to apply the knowledge that we have gained because of all the expertise we have brought on board.”

 

Landmark giant steps taken by Uganda Virus Research Institute 

  • Tracking the spread of HIV 
    In a surveillance area in South West Uganda, UVRI and its partners have been documenting the course of the HIV epidemic and its drivers for 20 years. 
    During the 1990s, this project demonstrated for the first time that at the population level the number of new infections per year was declining in Uganda.
  • This observation helped to provide the evidence based on which Uganda has been hailed for turning the course of the epidemic. 
    Data from the same project showed recently that the epidemic may be on the rise again; leading to renewed strong efforts by the National Aids Control Programme to accelerate HIV prevention.
  • Vaccine trials
    In 1999, the unit collaborated on the first ever HIV vaccine trial in Africa - the first of many trials to come. 
    While a highly effective Aids vaccine has still not been identified, UVRI and its partners have made giant strides in understanding how such a vaccine might be designed.
  • Cryptococcal disease prophylaxis trial
    A trial in Uganda showed the most common disease of the central nervous system in HIV infected African people could be prevented with a pill. 
    Around 10 per cent of HIVpositive people in Africa are affected by cryptococcal disease and about half of those people die from it. 
    The trial helped to show that HIV-positive people are far less likely to get the deadly disease if they take a regular dose of the medicine Fluconazole, an inexpensive drug which is safe to take.
  • Developing Antiretroviral Therapy for Africa (DART) trial
    Researchers from Uganda contributed to a major advance in understanding HIV treatment which could see life-saving drugs extended to more than one million extra people at no additional cost. 
    They found that routine laboratory testing of blood for signs of drug side-effects - long regarded as essential for HIV treatment - is unnecessary. 
    By abandoning routine laboratory testing, which is costly and requires sophisticated equipment only available in hospitals, the money saved could be used to buy and distribute extra anti-retroviral drugs.
  • Jinja Art Roll Out trial
    Local scientists helped to show that vital HIV anti-retroviral (ARV) drugs can be given by trained and supervised lay health workers to patients in their homes, just as effectively as ARV treatment through health centres but significantly cheaper. 
    This could dramatically increase access to these drugs, particularly in areas with limited health clinics and a shortage of doctors and nursing staff. 

Other Milestones
The institute was the first to isolate more than 20 new arboviruses, including West Nile Virus, Bwamba Fever, Semliki Forest Virus, Orungo, Kadam, and O’nyong’nyong.

 

Scientists seek solutions to Uganda’s plague problem

The Monitor, October 7, 2010    

By Evelyn Lirri 

Scientists in Uganda are intensifying research aimed at ending the spread of plague and other Zoonotic diseases in the country. The scientists will specifically focus on the West Nile region which has experienced endemic plague over the years.

Mr Nackson Babi, a programme manager for plague research at the Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI) said that although several research interventions have been carried out in the past to address the problem, more work will be needed to eventually end the problem of plague. “Studies have been going on to find out why plagues have remained in Uganda especially in the West Nile region. Part of the problem is that the Democratic Republic of Congo which is also plague endemic has not put in place control interventions,”said Mr Babi. 

Current research according to scientists at the UVRI is also looking at the various rodent species to find out which of these species is a common reservoir for plague, and also which specific flea species is transmitting the plague. 

Plague is a disease associated with rodents which carry fleas that can be spread to humans from the bites of the infected fleas. In people, plague infects the lymph glands. If diagnosed in time, plague can be treated using antibiotics 
Common symptoms of plague are fever, headache, cold and fatigue. Health experts say plagues are common in the rainy season when the rodents come out of the fields and bushy areas to seek shelter in houses. Most of them come carrying the fleas which end up biting and infecting humans.

State Minister for Health, Dr Richard Nduhuura said women and children in West Nile are most affected by the plague because they sleep on the floor while the beds are a reserve for men. “The beds are such that the fleas can’t attack the men while the women and children are left to be bitten by these fleas. We should ensure that women also sleep on beds,”he said. 

Dr Nduhuura also reiterated the need to carry out cross-border control interventions if the plague situation is to be addressed. “If we continue to prevent and control here and our neighbours don’t do anything, we shall continue to have these outbreaks,”he added.

 

Mr Yovani Adriko, the LCIII chairperson of Logiri Sub County, one of the most affected areas in Arua district said public health education campaigns are being carried out to encourage hygiene in homes and surrounding environments like bushes which are fertile breeding ground for the rodents.

 

New HIV virus type hits Uganda

By Raymond Baguma  and Agencies

                                                                                    The New Vision: September 05, 2010

A new type of HIV has hit Ugandan fishing communities in Wakiso and Masaka districts on the shores of Lake Victoria, according to an ongoing research by the Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI). 

The new virus strain has been defined as "recombinant" because it combines existing strains, the UN News agency IRIN News reported. 
The most common HIV types in Uganda are A and D, which were found in most of the 117 people from the five fishing communities. 
However, the researchers also found that 29% of the infected people have virus forms of A/D and D/A. This is evidence that HIV re-infection has occurred. 
The final data on the prevalence of the drug-resistant HIV will be available in 2012. 
Dr. Pontiano Kaleebu, the director of UVRI, said: “We are starting to see transmission of viruses that are resistant to some drugs and need to inform even those already infected not to engage in risky behaviour to avoid super-infection." 
He said people could be re-infected with a strain that is resistant to certain ARVs. IRIN News recently reported that researchers want to develop interventions targeting the fishing communities, such as education on how to reduce HIV risk through abstinence, faithfulness, condom use and male medical circumcision. 
"We want to work with these communities and learn more in order to see how we can intervene, but also prepare for future research in vaccines and microbicides [female-controlled HIV prevention products]," said Kaleebu. 
Uganda has achieved success in reducing the HIV prevalence from 30% in the 1980s, to the national average of 6.4% by using the ABC strategy which emphasises abstinence, faithfulness and condom use. However, the HIV prevalence in the fishing communities is at 28%, which is higher than the national average. 
Uganda is implementing other programmes such as Voluntary Counselling and Testing, ARV treatment as well as Prevention of Mother To Child Transmission. 
However, there are concerns the country is losing the HIV fight with evidence of stagnation in prevalence and rising new infections especially in married couples.

 

 

 

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Scientists seek solutions to Uganda’s plague problem

The Monitor, October 7, 2010 

By Evelyn Lirri

Scientists in Uganda are intensifying research aimed at ending the spread of plague and other Zoonotic diseases in the country. The scientists will specifically focus on the West Nile region which has experienced endemic plague over the years.

Mr Nackson Babi, a programme manager for plague research at the Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI) said that although several research interventions have been carried out in the past to address the problem, more work will be needed to eventually end the problem of plague. “Studies have been going on to find out why plagues have remained in Uganda especially in the West Nile region. Part of the problem is that the Democratic Republic of Congo which is also plague endemic has not put in place control interventions” said Mr Babi. Current research according to scientists at the UVRI is also looking at the various rodent species to find out which of these species is a common reservoir for plague, and also which specific flea species is transmitting the plague.

Plague is a disease associated with rodents which carry fleas that can be spread to humans from the bites of the infected fleas. In people, plague infects the lymph glands. If diagnosed in time, plague can be treated using antibiotics 
Common symptoms of plague are fever, headache, cold and fatigue. Health experts say plagues are common in the rainy season when the rodents come out of the fields and bushy areas to seek shelter in houses. Most of them come carrying the fleas which end up biting and infecting humans. 

State Minister for Health, Dr Richard Nduhuura said women and children in West Nile are most affected by the plague because they sleep on the floor while the beds are a reserve for men. “The beds are such that the fleas can’t attack the men while the women and children are left to be bitten by these fleas. We should ensure that women also sleep on beds,”he said.

Dr Nduhuura also reiterated the need to carry out cross-border control interventions if the plague situation is to be addressed. “If we continue to prevent and control here and our neighbours don’t do anything, we shall continue to have these outbreaks,”he added.

Mr Yovani Adriko, the LCIII chairperson of Logiri Sub County, one of the most affected areas in Arua district said public health education campaigns are being carried out to encourage hygiene in homes and surrounding environments like bushes which are fertile breeding ground for the rodents.

 

Studies on the HIV vaccine

 By Dr. Annet Nanvubya

The New Vision, May 14, 2010

 

 

 

May 18, is World Vaccine Awareness Day. Uganda was home to the first-ever HIV vaccine trial in Africa in 1995, which was conducted at the Joint Clinical Research Centre. Since that time, Uganda has remained an important contributor to HIV vaccine research and development. 
HIV Vaccine Awareness Day provides a great opportunity to thank people who are helping find an effective vaccine. These include the clinical trial volunteers, health professionals, community members and the researchers. It is also an opportunity to learn more about vaccine research. An AIDS vaccine is described as the best hope for ending the spread of HIV. 
Dr Annet Nanvubya of Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI), Entebbe, says an effective AIDS vaccine will protect people from acquiring HIV and prevent or slow down the rate at which those who are already infected can progress to AIDS. 

Although many trials have been done worldwide and produced no vaccine approved for use to date, great strides have been made. Every time a trial has stopped, there are discoveries, new information and developments that take researchers closer to discovering the vaccine. 

Vaccine trials in Uganda 
Two bodies are involved in the research. 

One is the Medical Research Council (MRC), which co-operates with the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) and UVRI at Entebbe. 
The other is Makerere University Johns Hopkins University project (MUJHU) and Makerere University Walter Reed Project (MUWRP), which are also conducting trials in Masaka.

 

 

How the vaccine to fight HIV/AIDS is developed

The New Vision, May 14, 2010

A vaccine is a substance that is introduced into the body to prevent infection caused by any disease-causing organism, such as a virus, bacteria or parasite. 
It teaches the body how to defend itself against an invader by creating an immune response,” Dr Annet Nanvubya of UVRI, says. 

Types of vaccines
There are different types of vaccines; preventive and therapeutic vaccines. 
A preventive vaccine is designed for individuals who are not infected with the targeted disease.
Weakened bacteria or viruses are injected into a person to provoke the body to produce antibodies to fight the invaders. 
These antibodies expel the bacteria and remain in the body looking out for a similar invader, thus preventing the individual from becoming infected for a long time. 
A therapeutic vaccine is given to infected individuals to form immune responses that would allow better control of the infection or disease. In case of HIV, it slows the disease from progressing to AIDS.

HIV vaccine
Unlike other vaccines where weakened germs are used, no HIV is used in AIDS vaccines. 
They use a synthetic virus, made in the laboratory, which cannot cause HIV infection. The vaccine does not contain any material from HIV infected individuals. 
But the replica of the virus made is still able to convince our soldiers that there is an invasion of an enemy looking like the virus and this triggers off a variety of defence mechanisms that help the body fight against HIV.
According to IAVI documents, it starts with a biological concept. Experts in how our immune system works suggest ways in which an HIV virus can be stopped.
These are discussed by many experts and polished. The convincing idea is then tested in a laboratory. 
Even when it fails at this stage, new information is learnt about the behaviour of HIV and our immune system. 
When it succeeds, it goes to another level of testing it in animals. Normally, scientists use rats, rabbits and monkeys. 
This gives the researchers an idea of the effects the candidate is likely to have in humans. Success at this stage is seen in terms of safety and effectiveness in stopping the disease,
When a vaccine candidate succeeds in animals, it is then approved for use among humans. 
These clinical trials go through three phases. The first phase is conducted in a small number of low risk and healthy individuals to evaluate the vaccine’s safety and, to a small extent, effectiveness. This may last between 12-18 months.
When it succeeds, it is then taken to the second phase. Here, it tested on many people, up to several hundred participants. 
Researchers want to identify common short-term side effects and information on its effect on the immune system. The trials may last between 12-18 months.
Success at this level is not all. The vaccine candidate has then to be tried on a third phase.
These are large clinical trials conducted on several hundreds to several thousands of high risk individuals and may last between 3-5 years. For the vaccine to succeed, it must produce a desired clinical effect against the disease or invader and must also be safe to human beings. 
Many vaccines we use today, like the TB, Polio, measles or small pox vaccine went through the same process. The difference is that they used a weakened or disabled germ to trigger off an immune response. 
A weak TB germ for example, is introduced in the body. Our defences identify it and kill it easily. But in the process, they reproduce lots of soldiers to remain on alert to fight the same germ in case it returns into the body.

 

 

I took part in the HIV vaccine trial 

The New Vision, May 14, 2010

Paul Wetaka volunteered in Uganda’s first HIV vaccine trials by Joint Clinical Research Centre between 1995 and 2000. 
The robust man talked to Ben Okiror about his experience. 

Have you felt any discomfort as a result? 
Not at all: I have not felt any changes in my body. On the contrary, I feel proud of participating in the trial. I have been part of attempts to find a vaccine that would save the next generation. This particular vaccine is in its third phase trial in Thailand. 

Ours was the first phase. I have since been supporting many other initiatives. 
When you look at the vaccine against small pox and measles, some people had to make the sacrifice. It was an honour to be part of the first African vaccine trials rather than wait for one from the developed world.

How much were you paid? 
It is voluntary work. We are only facilitated when there are meetings and seminars with transport re-imbursement. So there is no material benefit for me as an individual. 

How many were you? 
We were 40, most of them from the military. 

Was it an order? 
No. I was inspired by Maj. Rubaramira Ruranga. He asked us to test and some of us who were negative volunteered for the trials. 
At that time, HIV prevalence was very high. Many people were dying. We lost many colleagues in the army and other places. So, I wanted to be part of the process to stop the scourge. 
What exactly did you go through during the trials? 
Apart from the initial classes before the trials, went through several tests to weed out those with allergies and other diseases and only the healthy ones were selected.
I was then given four injections in intervals of one month, two months and 26 months before a follow up after one year. During that period, I would go for periodical testing, where my blood would be drawn and reactions and side effects were registered. But they provided medical care whenever I fell sick. 

What happened later? 
After two years, in a process called “unblinding”, it was revealed to us the type of vaccine we had been injected with, its effects on our bodies and the next steps. 
My immune response was just 5% and yet they were looking for 70-80%. So we were told the trials would move to the second phase, which was meant for European countries. Thailand was chosen and they are now in the third phase of the trials. 
After that, what did you do to fight against HIV? 
I became a member of the community advisory board, representing vaccine volunteers. 
Later, I was invited to the Walter Reed project as a co-opted Community Advisory Board member since I was experienced. They were starting new research and I shared my experience with them. 
After sometime, I went to Entebbe to the Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI) to do mobilisation and sensitisation of the community, especially when the International AIDS Vaccine Initiative (IAVI) in collaboration with UVRI conducted three vaccine trials. I have been also attending conferences within and outside the country, sharing my experience. 

How did your family and relatives react to your participation?
 
They expressed mixed feelings. Some of them thought I was HIV positive and that was why I was part of the process. 
They were also worried that I could contract the virus during the trials. Fortunately, after I explained the whole process, they became supportive. 
My wife was by my side because we were advised to go with our wives for the meetings and seminars and so she knew the whole process. There was also the assurance that should anything go wrong, they would compensate us. 

Have you heard of anybody who was compensated because things went wrong? 
Luckily no one has experienced adverse effects as far as I know. In the last 15 years that vaccine trials have been conducted all over the world, nothing of that nature has been reported. 

Would you take part in another vaccine trial if asked? 
Scientists advise us not to take part in more than one vaccine trial unless otherwise because it takes a long time to follow up on the effects of the vaccine. 
You cannot tell what reaction would take place if these vaccines interacted in a person’s body. 
Any word of advice? 
I call upon people to volunteer for the trials because you never know. Your efforts may lead to the discovery of a vaccine.

 

 

Mosquito named after Ugandan scientist 

The New Vision, February 28, 2010
By Arthur Baguma

GREAT inventions of the world have been inspired by great thinkers. Famous people in history have made scientific discoveries and these discoveries have been named after them. And on this long list, a Ugandan scientist has been added. 
A team of renowned international mosquito taxonomists has named a new subgenus of the genus stegomyia (aedes) mosquitoes after Dr. Louis Godfrey Mukwaya, the assistant director, and head of the department of entomology, at the Uganda Virus Research Institute, Entebbe (UVRI).
The mosquito is named after him in recognition of his contribution to medical entomology and knowledge towards St. simpsoni, now known as St. (Mukwaya) simpsoni.
A detailed description of Mukwaya’s discovery was recently published in the Zoological Journal of the Linnean Society of London by three renowned mosquito taxonomists — John F. 
Reinert, Ralph E. Harbach, and Ian J. Kitching of the Center for Medical, Agricultural and Veterinary Entomology, Gainesville, Florida and the department of Entomology, the Natural History Museum, London, U.K are the authors of the article. 

Who is Mukwaya?
Mukwaya joined the East African Virus Research Institute (now UVRI) in 1965 as a trainee entomologist and the first Ugandan scientist to work at this institute. 
He had previously, worked at Makerere University College as a graduate research assistant in the department of Zoology where he bred and colonised a grasshopper called Ruspolia deferens (nsenene) in the laboratory. 
At the institute, he has risen through a number of ranks to the present substantive post of assistant director (Research). 
He went to Kangavve Preparatory Primary School, Kijaguzo Full Primary (in Luwero District), Lubaga Junior Secondary School, St. Mary’s College Kisubi and later Makerere University College. 
He holds a B.Sc. degree of the University of London obtained at Makerere University College in Zoology, Botany and Chemistry. He has a PhD. in medical entomology specialising in feeding behaviour and behavioural genetics of mosquitoes. 
He was a post-doctoral fellow (1973-74) in Prof. Vincent G. Dethier’s laboratory, a renowned scholar of sensory physiology and insect behaviour, in the department of biology, University of Princeton US.
In 1975, he was elected fellow of the Royal Entomological Society of London and a year later appointed to the World Health Organisation (WHO) Expert Panel of Vector Biology and Control in Geneva. 
At the end of 1979, WHO awarded Mukwaya a fellowship to study insect pathology at the laboratory of insects affecting man and animals at Gainesville, Florida, US, with a view of starting a laboratory for biological control of mosquitoes in Uganda. 
In 1981, the US Academy of Sciences National Research Council, invited Mukwaya to participate in drawing up guidelines for mosquito field research in developing countries. 
He was among the scientists who met at Imperial College, London in 2001 to discuss risks and benefits with a view of developing a field trial with genetically modified mosquitoes for the control of malaria. 
A genetically modified mosquito is immune to any particular malaria parasite and loses the ability to transmit the disease. 
Mukwaya has won several competitive research grants and served as a Consultant on various projects including WHO Consultant for the yellow fever outbreak in Nigeria which claimed about 10,000 lives in two years.

 

HIV researchers target an African-focused agenda

The New Vision, January 24, 2010 

By Gladys Kalibbala

THE World Health Organisation (WHO) has proposed to change the time when people living with HIV start on ARVs. Dr. Kihumuro Apuuli, the director of Uganda Aids Commission, says WHO recommends that people living with HIV start on ARVs when their CD4 count is below 350 and not 250 as has been the case. 
This means about 700,000 people will be eligible for the drugs which we cannot afford, he explained. 
Kihumuro was speaking at the recently concluded 5th African Aids Vaccine Programme (AAVP) conference at Serena Hotel in Kampala.
He said, currently, of the 400,000 people in Uganda who require ARVs, only 191,500 access them.
Kihumuro said: “This is a big challenge on the African continent and we need a vaccine to be found urgently.
Participants at the conference noted that Africans needed to take advantage of the AAVP Secretariat’s shift to Uganda to concentrate on finding an AIDS vaccine and reduce the spread of the disease on the continent. 
The headquarters of AAVP which have been based in Geneva since 2000 will soon be transferred to Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI), Entebbe. Uganda beat Botswana and South Africa to host the organisation. 
Uganda was selected because of the Government’s commitment and the good research environment. 
AAVP is a network of African HIV vaccine stakeholders led by Africans across the continent, with a vision for an AIDS-free Africa. It was created with the specific intention of mobilising support and advocating a more African-focused vaccine agenda. 
The programme intends to involve Africans in the development of the vaccine supported by WHO and United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS). 
During the conference, it was noted that the AIDS pandemic continues to be the most serious public health challenge facing the world today, with Africa having the highest infections with unprecedented medical and socio-economic consequences. 
The best hope to end the AIDS pandemic remains in the development of an effective HIV vaccine and its distribution to all communities,” said Dr. Ponsiano Kaleebu, the acting director of UVRI. 
He says 30 years after the first cases of AIDS were reported and HIV identified as a the cause, Africa, with only 10% of the world’s population, is home to more than 65% of the 33 million people living with AIDS worldwide.
Researchers say the annual rate of new infections continues to rise. For instance, in 2007, about 2.5 million people were infected. According to the 2006 UNAIDS report, about 40 million people worldwide are infected with HIV, 62% of them in Sub-Saharan Africa. 
The report adds that about 25 million people have so far died worldwide as the infection rate increases to an estimated 4.3 million people annually. However, only about one million HIV-infected people currently receive antiretroviral therapy in sub-Saharan Africa. 
This shows that treatment alone cannot help, we need a vaccine to halt the spread,” Dr Sam Okware, the commissioner for health services at the health ministry observes. 
He adds that developing an effective HIV vaccine is the greatest challenge in biomedical research. 
Prof. Fred Wabwire of Makerere University Walter Reed Project noted that many women drop out of the vaccine trials and called for their participation. 
It will be unfortunate if we come up with a vaccine which works for men without knowledge of how it works for women,” he said. 
The researchers urged African leaders to embrace the programme by showing their support through funding. Jeannette Kagame, the First Lady of Rwanda, was appointed AAVP’s ambassador and will represent the association at various meetings and policy forums. 
Kagame urged leaders to raise an awareness of Africa’s concerns at the international level and stop downplaying the gravity of the pandemic since this may hinder the vaccine’s development process. 
Likewise, Janet Museveni, the First Lady of Uganda, called for other preventive measures alongside the ABC (abstinence, be faithful and condom use) strategy if the pandemic is to be curbed.
There was also a call to control TB which has become more challenging. It was noted that the existing BCG vaccine is ineffective against the disease and poses risks in HIV-infected children. 
There was also a call to control TB which has become a challenge with the emergency of multi-drug resistant strains, especially in people living with HIV. 
Researchers highlighted the need for boosting BCG vaccine to meet this challenge.

 

 

Scientists end year in style

By Gladys Kalibbala 

The New Vision, January 18, 2010

RESEARCHERS on Friday got a break from their laboratories at Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI), Entebbe to party with friends. 
This end of year party for employees was also meant to celebrate Uganda's successful bid to host the African Aids Vaccine Programme (AAVP) Secretariat which has been shifted from Geneva. 
The acting director of UVRI, Dr. Pontiano Kaleebu said: "Let us dance and eat because we have earned it through the success registered last year." 
A jovial Dr. Sam Okware, the director of Uganda National Research Organization, urged researchers to form quality groups in order to improve on the quality of their research in the new year. 
Francis Runumi, the deputy director of general services at the Ministry of Health was the guest of honour. Runumi, who displayed exciting dancing strokes, said there was hope for many good things to come. 
Mohammed Kawuma, the Entebbe Municipality Member of Parliament, also attended the function. Guests were entertained by Ndere Troupe. 

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