Shs26b ring-fenced for zoonotic diseases

A mosquito. PHOTO/FILE/COURTESY

What you need to know:

  • Persons who contract RVF have to be handled like Ebola patients as they not only present related symptoms but also require delicate handling since transmission occurs the same way.

Scientists have committed at least Shs26b (€7m) to arrest largely neglected but fast-growing lethal diseases in animals and humans in Uganda.

The resources, drawn from the German government, have at least Shs5.9b (€1.6m) committed towards containment of the Rift Valley Fever (RVF) disease. RVF is a hemorrhagic contagion with adverse effects markedly similar to those presented in Ebola patients.

Held under the ‘Boosting Uganda’s Investment in Livestock Development’ (BUILD) tag line, the initiative—that leans on research-based evidence to moot solutions—has discovered that RVF is making inroads in western Uganda districts like Kiruhura and Mbarara.

RVF mostly attacks cattle, sheep, goats and camel and usually spills over to humans through fluids of infected animals.

Dr Dan Tumusiime, the lead researcher into RVF, said Uganda “should worry about [RVF] because in countries that have been hit by it, they have to millions of dollars.”

Persons who contract RVF have to be handled like Ebola patients as they not only present related symptoms but also require delicate handling since transmission occurs the same way.

“Seven days after the infection, most humans will have it as a fever, which can go away in three to seven days. [Patients] can also have some mild headache, flu and body tiredness,” Dr Tumusiime said, adding, “You have nearly one percent of the people who have got the infection progressing [into acute situation].”

Up to 22 districts have reported and or registered RVF, with the cattle corridor most hit. 

“I think over 40 human cases have been reported since 2016, but we have not quantified the number of livestock that has been lost,” Dr Tumusiime revealed.

Given the inadequate data on the RVF to influence clear decision making, scientists bankrolled by the German government under the auspices of the Agriculture ministry and National Agricultural Research Laboratories (NARL) embarked on intensive research to generate reliable data.

“Rift Valley Fever gets about €1.6m (about Shs6b) to have this research work done,” Dr Kristina Roesel, a veterinary expert at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), said of the €7m BUILD project.

Dr Roesel revealed that current data shows that RVF is transmitted by the Aedes mosquitoes found to be mostly active during day. Infection rates tend to worsen during rainy seasons.

“We have NARL that is looking into the type of mosquitoes because we want to know the [specific] type that carries the fever,” Dr Roesel said, adding, “They do that also with the animal lab in Germany.”

The scientists are also working with Kenya, Burundi, Rwanda to not only establish the transmission routes but also jointly tackle it for effective control and flash out.

“We do that by looking at their RNA thus the genetic material,” Dr Roesel revealed, adding that the empirical evidence collected will point scientists to “which country [RVF] is coming from.”

The studies that are in advanced stages are also meant to establish why only positive cases are registered in the cattle corridor.

“We did our research in 2019 and we found that even the areas that are not reporting outbreaks, actually have animals that have suffered or got an infection of the disease,” Dr Tumusiime said, adding “That informed these current studies. We wanted to investigate why some areas have outbreaks reported and no outbreaks are reported in other parts like eastern and northern Uganda yet studies showed that all animals in that cattle belt had been exposed to RVF.”

Goat plague on the rise

Major efforts in the research process are also committed towards containing the PPR strain, which is best known as the goat plague. This affects small ruminants such as goats and sheep, among others. The highest and first cases of the strain were registered in the Karamoja Sub-region.

“The world loses about between $1.5b and $2.1b every year as a result of PPR directly and indirectly,” Dr Joseph Nkamwesiga, the lead researcher in PPR strain, said, adding, “In Uganda, it started in Karamoja region in 2007 in the Moroto and Kotido districts. In that first outbreak, Uganda lost more than 5,000 animals.

Dr Juliet Sentumbwe, the director of animal resources at the Agriculture ministry, said Uganda has already committed to eradicating the strain by 2030. She, nevertheless, noted that the government is constrained financially, making it hard to contain the fast-growing animal diseases.

“We … appreciate the NARL that is coordinating this project and, of course, the German government that is funding it to make sure we come up with interventions in these areas,” Dr Sentumbwe said, adding, “When we find out such issues … we are able to intervene at the right point.”

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