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.”
MU-JHU Positions: Locum Midwives/Nurses – WOMANPOWER Study June 2021
The Makerere University-Johns Hopkins (MU-JHU) Research Collaboration – MU-JHU CARE LTD, a Kampala – based equal opportunities Clinical Research and Service Delivery Organisation with more than 350 employees is seeking interested, committed and reliable professionals with the described qualifications to apply for the Locum positions listed below in support of the EDCTP funded studies. The positions are Locum positions on short term contract for 6 months.
1. Locum Midwife/Nurse: multiple positions
Reports To: Nurse Coordinator
Duty station: MUJHU, Kisenyi HCIV and Kawempe National Referral Hospital
Required qualifications and profile:
A Diploma in Midwifery/Nursing, with current registration for practice from the Uganda Nurses and Midwives councils (UNMC) with interest in working in a busy labour ward with minimum supervision. The candidates are required to have worked for at least three (3) years in a busy health centre/institution. Previous work experience in a clinical research environment and/or with HIV, TB and/or MCH clinical care would be a strong advantage. Computer literacy is required. The successful candidates should be willing and able to work extended duty shifts i.e. 12 hour day, and 12 hour night shifts, including public holidays and weekends.
The holder of this position will work under the direct supervision of the Nurse Coordinator with guidance from the Head of Nursing Section, and will be responsible for the following duties:
- Working closely with other health professionals/research staff to obtain consents.
- Provide midwifery/nursing care to study participants as well as do phlebotomy, cord blood sampling and other sample collection as required.
- Collect data using tablets and laptops.
- Participate in study data quality assurance and control.
- Any other duties reasonably assigned by the relevant authorities.
- Maintain professional GCP/HSP accreditation and complete study specific training as required.
Applications with complete C.Vs, including 3 referees and their full addresses or contact Telephone numbers, copies of academic certificates and testimonials, should be hand delivered to: MU-JHU Human Resource Manager, through the reception on first floor, MUJHU 1 Building – not later than 25th June, 2021 by 5.30pm.
Only short-listed applicants will be contacted. Successful candidates will be expected to start work immediately.
Psychological Services for Community Members While Home
COVID-19 is a terrible disease that has brought about so many psychological challenges within the population but with many more effects to the students and the entire community. Already as students were departing yesterday they made remarks like “shall we ever finish?” “Let us go and get married” etc. They put on faces of sadness, anxiety, and many other forms of negative emotions. At their homes parents too some are having other challenges and anxieties that we need to help them deal with.
The Counselling and Guidance Centre is going to intensify its online presence as an avenue to reach out to the community. We shall do the following:
- With support from the College of Computing and Information Sciences (CoCIS) staff we developed an App UniCare which people can download and reach a counsellor of their choice via e-mail, telephone, chat etc at any time at their convenience.
- We intend to have a zoom session every fortnight addressing a topic of interest basing on the prevailing need.
- Yesterday we held a meeting with student leaders who promised to work with us to deliver any content we develop to students via students’ WhatsApp groups.
- We are going to have continuous engagements with students via the Counselling and Guidance Centre Twitter and Facebook accounts.
We lost a student (Byengyera Natasha) from the School of Law to suicide on Sunday and she will be buried tomorrow.
We want to do our best to provide all support possible using the avenues above to support members of the community and we call upon you to reach out to as many students as possible with this information. Thank you very much.
We build for the future.
Manager, Counselling and Guidance Centre,
Plot 106, Mary Stuart Road (Opposite Mary Stuart Hall),
MakSPH Annual Report 2020
I am pleased to introduce our 2020 Annual Report, which illustrates the Makerere University School of Public Health, (MakSPH)’s shared commitment to advancing excellence in public health education, research, and innovation in Uganda and beyond.
In the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, the School of Public Health teams working together with the Ministry of Health and other partners moved fast towards enhancing the knowledge and awareness of our communities and other public health interventions to combat the spread of COVID-19 and mitigate a public health crisis that has thrown the world into disarray. We quickly adapted to the new normal, moving to working in a virtual environment and using blended approaches, to deliver our teaching, learning and research activities.
The pandemic has been a great challenge and slowed down several activities. However, this challenge has also propelled us towards fast-tracking some of our planned advancements including virtual
learning and partnerships, and has accelerated our public health innovations in a bid to contribute solutions to the current and future public health challenges.
Our research has focused on current issues to support evidence-based decision making, and mitigate the impact of the pandemic on essential health and other services, especially in vulnerable groups such as adolescents and children, refugees, among others.
In 2020, we embarked on construction of our new home that we hope will reduce the space constraints for our staff and students. I am happy to report that the construction is now under way at Makerere University Main Campus. We are sincerely grateful to our partners, sponsors and staff for the efforts towards this great move.
Our teams have maintained a very active community engagement focus and working with various stakeholders to share research findings and support processes for knowledge translation. We have also maintained a high level of scientific research outputs including over 250 peer reviewed publications in 2020. I cannot thank our researchers enough for this great effort.
The number of partnerships, grants and volume of work at the School has grown within Uganda and the African region. We are very grateful to our funders; partners and stakeholders for this continued growth.
I acknowledge the extraordinary efforts made by all our staff, students and alumni. We look forward to another productive year and decade of better service to our communities.
Have a nice read.
Dr. Rhoda Wanyenze,
Professor & Dean, School of Public Health, Makerere University
Please Downloads for the full report.
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