The Schistosomiasis Center based at the Uganda Virus Research Institute is setting out to discover why schistosomiasis disease commonly known as Bilharzia is a bigger problem for people living around Lake Albert and the Albert Nile than for people living on the shores of Lake Victoria – despite the parasitic worms being very common in, and heavily infecting people in both places.
Our researchers seek to understand the relationship between aspects of the environment, the people, the worms, or the snails which carry the infection, and how this could be making the difference.
Led by our experienced mentors and colleagues, Dr Narcis Kabatereine and Mr David Oguttu, we set out to identify communities that fit the research criteria. We needed willing participants affected by the parasites, without previous and current involvement in other research projects, and accessible to the necessary accommodations and laboratory facilities.
The team set off on the long drive to Hoima, situated in the green lands at the top of the Western Rift Valley escarpment, and then dropped down to Lake Albert to visit villages on the lakeshore.
First stop was Buliisa and the schistosomiasis research camp established there for decades of research of the deadly disease. But here, no go – the villages that once thrived had been flooded out by dramatic rises in water levels over the last few years. Where busy communities flourished, and even a new road was built at Butiaba, now only drowned palm trees and the shells of shops and homes remain.
We made our way back up the hill to Hoima, looking forward to a cool night and wondering what day two of our expedition would hold.
With renewed vigour, we embarked on a long drive through forests of Kikuube District to the steep escarpment edge overlooking Buhuka. Here, there is oil work – a testament to modern progress.
However, rises in water levels have still forced the villages to move, although the escarpment has restricted the distance and they remain close along the shore.
The Buhuka Health Centre team shared great concern about the serious cases they see and welcomed the team to establish their laboratory there. Village Health Team members introduced the team to local council members and the project was welcomed. Buhuka was chosen as the Lake Albert center, and the team found comfortable accommodation in nearby Kyangwali.
The journey did not end there. Heading back to Kampala and then to the eastern side of Lake Victoria, towards the Kenyan border, we encountered a different landscape. Here we found a different scene – luxuriant farmland, small hills, many islands – perhaps the island of Sigulu will be a good place to work? But on Sigulu, many fishermen have left because of fishing regulations intended to preserve stocks and prevent overfishing of young fish.
Sigulu Island deserted fishing community
But back to the mainland and visits to lakeshore communities offered the opportunities we need. Roads were treacherous in the rainy conditions but our driver was heroic! A base at Namayingo town and the Health Centre there will allow the team to work with daily trips to four fishing communities on the Lake Victoria shores.
Written by : Prof Alison Elliot