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A Schizophrenia Study in Africa is Boosting Equity in Global Genetics Research

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The largest psychiatric genetics study ever done in Africa is increasing the diversity of data on mental illness, training a new generation of geneticists, and chipping away at the genetic underpinnings of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

By Tom Ulrich

It was not quite noon yet, but Mirembe had already had a long day. She had come to Butabika Hospital in Uganda early that morning, first to see a nurse and a doctor, and now stepped into a warm, sparsely-furnished office. Sitting down across the table from a research assistant, she wondered how long she was going to be there. But she was curious. The nurse had told her a little about a research study on mental illness and that she was eligible to participate if she agreed to sign up. She was full of questions. 

Mirembe (not her real name) is one of tens of thousands of outpatients seen every year at Butabika, the national mental health hospital for all of Uganda, located on a hill on the outskirts of the capital city, Kampala. Over the next two hours, she would learn in detail what the research study was about and decide whether to participate. If she said yes, she would then answer more than 150 questions about her health, provide some of her saliva for DNA, and become one of more than 19,000 people across four African countries who, over the last two years, have signed on to help scientists in Africa, the United States, and beyond better understand the genetic roots of schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and other psychiatric illnesses.

That effort, the Neuropsychiatric Genetics of African Populations-Psychosis (or NeuroGAP-Psychosis) project, is the largest study of psychiatric genetics ever conducted in Africa. Bringing together scientists and doctors from Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, South Africa, and the United States, the four-year-long project seeks to engage 35,000 Africans in a quest to gain a deeper biological understanding of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder across a diversity of populations.

We could be the first people to have 35,000 DNA samples in Africa. That’s huge.

Dr. Dickens akena, makerere university

Current genetic data on mental illness are mostly from people of European ancestry, and NeuroGAP-Psychosis aims to change that, by ensuring that African science and people are represented in the search for genetic markers for these diseases.

“The world is moving towards precision medicines,” said Dr. Dickens Akena, a psychiatrist and the NeuroGAP-Psychosis lead investigator in Uganda, and a psychiatry lecturer at Makerere University in Kampala. “If we’re going to make medications or diagnostics that are tailored towards certain genetic variations, then we need to include populations from Africa in the genetic data. If we don’t do that, the African continent and its inhabitants will be left behind.”

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Health

MakSPH, Partners Commended for supporting Antimicrobial Stewardship in Uganda

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A screenshot of the Public Health England Antibiotic Guardian Awards recognizing MakSPH’s exceptional performance in Promoting Antimicrobial Stewardship through improved Infection Prevention and Control in Uganda.

By Davidson Ndyabahika

Public Health England, an executive agency of the Department of Health and Social Care in the United Kingdom has given an award for exceptional performance to Makerere University School of Public Health—MakSPH for its outstanding role in strengthening antimicrobial stewardship in Uganda.

The award was in recognition for the collaborative work on antimicrobial stewardship with Nottingham Trent University, Buckinghamshire NHS Healthcare Trust and other partners. This recognition was received at the Antibiotic Guardian Shared Learning and Awards 2020 (UK) under the category of Multi-Country Collaboration held late last month via zoom.

Delivering a certificate of recognition to Dr. David Musoke, the Uganda project lead, Dr Diane Ashiru-Oredope while representing the Antibiotic Guardian Shared Learning & Awards Planning Group observed that it was a highly competitive contest but MakSPH demonstrated great performance, hence the honour for its commitment to promotion of responsible use of antimicrobials to prevent antimicrobial resistance.

“We received the highest number of entries ever this year and so your award is an achievement to be proud of,” said Dr. Diane Ashiru-Oredope.

She hailed the Ugandan team for the “incredible work to keep antibiotics working” and urged them to submit more of this “great work for next year’s shared learning and awards.”

For ten years now, the MakSPH and Nottingham Trent University (NTU), UK have through this partnership supported efforts aimed at strengthening community health systems particularly supporting village health teams (VHTs) in Uganda and largely focusing on Wakiso district.

During its implementation, the project, titled, “Strengthening Antimicrobial Stewardship in Wakiso district using a One Health approach, has trained a total of 86 health practitioners, including animal health workers, and 227 community health workers on antimicrobial stewardship.

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Mak-UiB-Karolinska-Padua Paper Published in New England Journal of Medicine

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The collaborative paper’s key authors L-R: Dr. Thorkild Tylleskär, Dr. Susanna Myrnerts-Höök, Dr. Josaphat Byamugisha, Dr. Jolly Nankunda, Dr. Nicolas J. Pejovic, Dr. Clare Lubulwa and Hadija Nalubwama (Trial manager). Photo credit: Dr. Thorkild Tylleskär

Results from the Neonatal Supraglottic Airway (NeoSupra) Trial on neonatal resuscitation conducted at the Labour Wards of Mulago National Referral Hospital and Kawempe Specialised National Referral Hospital have been published in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM). The paper was co-authored by Makerere University’s Dr. Josaphat Byamugisha, Dr. Jolly Nankunda and Dr. Clare Lubulwa, the University of Bergen (UiB)’s Dr. Nicolas J. Pejovic and Dr. Thorkild Tylleskär, Karolinska Institutet (KI)’s Dr. Susanna Myrnerts Höök, Dr. Tobias Alfvén, Dr. Mats Blennow as well as other authors from the University of Padua (Italy).

The collaborative paper published on 26th November 2020 concluded that in neonates (newborns) with asphyxia (deficient supply of oxygen to their bodies), the Laryngeal Mask Airway (LMA) was safe in the hands of midwives but was not superior to face-mask ventilation with respect to early neonatal death and moderate-to-severe hypoxic–ischemic encephalopathy.

Please see Downloads for the paper. It may also be retrieved from the NEJM webpage at the link below: https://www.nejm.org/doi/full/10.1056/NEJMoa2005333

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Business & Management

UAPS 8th African Population Conference Report 2019

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The Vice President, H.E. Edward Kiwanuka Ssekandi launches the book “Uganda and its Demography” at the opening ceremony of the 8th African Population Conference held from 18th – 22nd November 2019, Imperial Resort Beach Hotel, Entebbe, Uganda. Photo credit: UAPS2019

During African Population Conferences, a day is always dedicated to the Host Country to organise events with emphasis on thematic areas of relevance to the country and other African countries. The Uganda Day events took place on Wednesday, 20 November 2019. The day’s events commenced with an opening ceremony which featured welcome remarks from the Vice Chancellor of Makerere University, Prof. Barnabas Nawangwe as well as the Chairperson of the National Organising Committee of the 8th APC and Director General of Uganda’s National Population Council, Dr. Jotham Musinguzi. The Hon. Minister of State for Finance, Planning and Economic Development, David Bahati and the Right. Hon. Speaker of Parliament of Uganda, Rebecca Alitwala Kadaga presented the opening statements. The keynote address was presented by the Minister of State for Lands, Housing and Urban Development, Chris Baryomunsi while Dr. Fred Wabire-Mangen of Makerere University was the chair of the opening ceremony programmes. Three other sessions organised on this day focused on thematic areas of Population and Development, Young People, and Statistics. A Uganda Day debate panel titled Harnessing Youth Development Potential in Africa: Have We Failed? was the last session for the Uganda Day programme of events. The Uganda Day events took place from 9:00am to 4:00pm while other conference sessions for the day started at 2:00pm. Uganda Day culminated in a well-attended official reception/dinner gala which featured diverse Ugandan cuisine and exciting performances by dance troupes.

Read the Full Report here

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