The world is currently faced with the Corona virus pandemic, which started in the People’s Republic of China on 31st December, 2019. on 30 January 2020, the World Health Organisation declared the outbreak a Public Health Emergency of International Concern. The virus is highly infectious and transmits by respiratory droplets when an infected person coughs or sneezes. As of today, nearly all the countries in the world have been affected, including Uganda, where the first case was reported on March 21, 2020. Makerere University/UVRI Infection and Immunity Research Training Programme (MUII-plus) has joined the national response or coronavirus in various ways.
MUII alumni are participating in SARS-CoV-2 testing and phylogenetics; and in modelling the dynamics of COVID-19 Epidemic in Uganda, exploring the implications for national mitigation measures;
A team from MUII-Plus is participating in engagement work, collection of data on conversations taking place on social media/radio/television while clinical fellows have undergone training to provide clinical care of COVID-19 cases.
National task force and advisory boards: MUII alumni and staff are participating in the COVID-19 Ministry of Health (MoH)-laboratory subcommittee and the Africa CDC laboratory technical working group on genomic surveillance for COVID-19 outbreak response in Africa. MUII alumni/staff are participating in discussions initiated by the President on vaccine development; and as advisors to the MoH. MUII fellows are also participating as front-line health workers for non-COVID illnesses during the COVID Crisis.
Communication: Our communication staff are engaged in providing information and communications on COVID guidelines, daily updates and national strategies.
Laboratory training and infrastructure: Our fellows are working on an initiative to promote training for COVID testing in academic labs, to complement the diagnostic/clinical labs as part of preparedness for a major outbreak.
COVID-related research: MUII fellows have submitted applications for COVID related research for studies on incidence, susceptibility, co-infections, host genetics; impact of BCG revaccination. We are also in touch with The Initiative to Develop African Research Leaders (IDeAL), based at the KEMRI – Wellcome Trust Research Programme (IDeAL -KWTRP/Jenner) about possible collaboration on vaccine trials. Proposals have also been submitted for possible post-mortem work and vertical transmission among COVID positive pregnant mothers.
Dr. Agnes Kiragga, Dr.John Kitayimbwa, Dr.Ronald Galiwango are MUII fellows who have been involved in modelling the COVID-19 epidemic in Uganda and their results underscore the need for locally developed and customized modelling approaches to inform and guide country-specific epidemic control. The team has produced two policy briefs; one describing the Ugandan epidemic and implications for control https://bit.ly/3j7ziTO and second one cautioning the exclusive use of face masks. https://bit.ly/2C5OTCZ
These study results have been embraced by the COVID-19 task-force at the Ministry of Health, Government of Uganda and results will be published in scientific journals.
The African continent was among the last to experience COVID-19 pandemic and has leveraged experiences from other continents to inform epidemic control measures, including earlier lock down in several African countries. Previous mathematical models from the United Kingdom and the USA predicted worrying numbers of covid-19 infections and deaths in Africa, largely because of its fragile health system and the high prevalence of existing co-morbidities and infections. Even though there has been a steady increase in the rate of COVID-19 infections in Africa, the current observed numbers are much lower than the predictions. Therefore, need for local expertise in mathematical modelling of COVID-19 became more evident.