National flu project targets epidemics

Written by John Musinguzi
Wednesday, 29 June 2011 17:49

A newly launched flu project hopes to strengthen capacity in surveillance and handling of other epidemics too.

The Avian and Human Influenza Preparedness and Response (AHIP) project, recently launched at the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM), is scheduled to close in June 2012. Implementation of the project started in September 2010.

The project, co-funded by the Uganda government ($ 5m) and the World Bank ($12m), is implemented by the ministry of Health and that of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries, and coordinated by the OPM.

Uganda has faced disease outbreaks in recent years, like the Malburg fever in June 2007 in Kamwenge district and Bushenyi district in 2008; Ebola fever in December 2007 and early 2008 in Bundibugyo; influenza H1N1 in 2009 in various districts; yellow fever in northern region late 2010, and another Ebola outbreak in central region in May this year.

Vincent Rubarema, the permanent secretary in the ministry of Agriculture, stressed that the project implementation will strengthen Uganda’s capacities in animal health surveillance; control of emerging and re-emerging diseases; national veterinary services (NVS) delivery; and rapid response to zoonotic diseases, among others.

He said the project had so far achieved the following: strengthening of private-public sector partnerships; human resource capacity strengthening; improvement of communication and transportation facilities at both central and local government levels; and improvement of diagnostic capacity at the national veterinary laboratory.

Dr Dennis Lwamafa, the Commissioner of Health Services, National Disease Control, hailed the project for training various cadres of district health staff in collaboration with UPDF, Uganda Prisons, Kampala Capital City Authority, and Makerere University. He also praised social mobilisation and community education across the country; production and translation of education and communication materials; and logistics procurement like vehicles, motorcycles and computers.

Kundhavi Kadiresan, the World Bank country representative, explained the genesis of the project as the global threat posed by the highly pathogenic avian influenza (HPAI) sub-type H5N1.

That outbreak, which killed a lot of poultry and people in Asia, Europe and Middle East, led to a two-pronged coordinated global response: creation of a multi-donor trust fund administered by the World Bank for provision of grants to integrate country programmes and other activities; and mobilization of international technical agencies to provide technical assistance, set norms and standards and coordinate at the global level.

Uganda has not reported any case of HPAI, although 11 African countries (Sudan, Nigeria, Ghana, Benin, Niger, Egypt, Cameroon, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Togo and Djibouti) reported cases. But Uganda was assessed as facing additional risks for five reasons, said Kadiresan.

These were a large population of backyard poultry living close to humans in both rural and urban areas; many lakes, swamps and water bodies that offer sanctuary for migratory birds that interact easily with domestic poultry and humans; Uganda’s location on three main North-South wild bird migratory routes; rapidly increasing trans-boundary poultry trade; and numerous village and roadside markets with poor poultry handling and slaughter facilities that pose serious bio-security problems.

Future of Avian Influenza

Although the threat of AHIP has been substantially reduced in Uganda, officials stressed, it is not totally eradicated because, after all, communicable disease outbreaks from the animal world are by nature recurrent emergencies with varying periods of hibernation in between.

Secondly, the project design is so flexible that it stresses preparation for, control and effective response to any other future infectious disease emergencies in livestock and humans. The project’s resources and activities have, for example, been utilized in the recent foot and mouth disease in cattle in several districts, yellow fever in Acholi, small ruminant plague in Karamoja and the recent Ebola outbreak in central region.

Thirdly, the project includes upgrading of diagnostic laboratories for detecting virus pathogens in animals and humans and construction of isolation units at Mulago and Entebbe hospitals to handle epidemic outbreak cases. Already, the national influenza centre laboratory at the Uganda Virus Research Institute has been upgraded to a bio-safety level III containment facility.