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Awareness of occupational biohazards & utilization of PPE among sanitation workers in fecal waste management plants in Uganda



By: Bulafu Douglas, Niyongabo Filimin, James Baguma, Bridget Nagawa Tamale, Namakula Lydia & Lesley Rose Ninsiima

In many Sub-Saharan African countries such as Uganda, rapid urban growth is attributed to increased industrialization, commercialization, employment opportunities, and rural-urban migration. With the current rapid urban population growth of 25%, Uganda is projected to be among the most urbanized countries in Africa by 2050. The growing urban population has led to an increased need for on-site sanitation technologies which require functioning fecal waste management systems and institutions to operate.

A sanitation worker is a person who is responsible for addressing any challenges along the sanitation chain. Sanitation workers are involved in emptying of pits and septic tanks; cleaning toilets, sewers and manholes; and operating pumping stations and treatment plants. Although sanitary workers provide a fundamental environmental health service to society, their occupation exposes them to extreme health and safety hazards including social discrimination and stigma. This study was carried out to establish awareness of occupational biohazard risks and utilization of personal protective equipment among sanitation workers in fecal waste management plants in regional cities in Uganda.

This study involved both quantitative and qualitative methods conducted among 417 sanitation workers in fecal treatment plants in Uganda’s nine regional cities of: Arua in West Nile; Lira and Gulu in northern Uganda; Mbale and Jinja in Eastern Uganda; Masaka and Kampala in central Uganda; and Fort Portal and Mbarara city in western Uganda. In addition, 17 key informant interviews (KIIs) were conducted among key stakeholders such as the officials at the fecal waste management plants, National Water and Sewerage Corporation, Public Health departments in the selected cities, and the Ministry of Health (MOH).

Mr. Douglas Bulafu (standing) talking to the research assistants during the training before data collection.
Mr. Douglas Bulafu (standing) talking to the research assistants during the training before data collection.

Findings from the study showed that, among the 417 sanitation workers, most (95%) were males, majority (46.5%) were 30 years old and below, and 44.8% had secondary education as their highest level of education. Only 32% of the workers reported to have spent more than 5 years working at the plant, 46% worked for more than the recommended 8 hours shift, and 26% worked in both day and night shifts. Of the different roles played at the treatment plants, 51% were involved in collection, 62% in emptying, 45% in transportation, 22% in treatment, and 32% in disposal of fecal waste. Sanitation workers reported being exposed to various occupational risks that could lead to injuries, illnesses, and death. These risks included exposure to fecal pathogens, strenuous labour, working in confined spaces, exposure to poisonous gases, and the use of hazardous chemicals.

The participants identified fecal waste collection points and points of fecal waste treatment especially at screening level as the most at-risk for occupational hazards for sanitation workers. Participants acknowledged that exposure to occupational hazards increases chances of disease-causing pathogen transmission to the public in addition to causing adverse health outcomes to them. The event of an occupational incident also reduced the productivity, efficiency and effectiveness of plant performance at the sewage treatment plants and the sanitation workers who earn a living on daily basis. One of the officials interviewed was quoted saying “We had a case were two people died in a septic tank. They were trying to empty it and what killed them were the gases inside the septic tank which caused suffocation.”

Christopher Tumusiime (left) a research assistant being shown by a sanitation worker some of the hazards when working around a septic tank.
Christopher Tumusiime (left) a research assistant being shown by a sanitation worker some of the hazards when working around a septic tank.

Although Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as gloves, masks, water proof boots, and overalls ought to be provided to employees working in a fecal sludge establishment, about 61% reported that they bought their own, and only 68% said that they always wore the availed PPE when working. However, of the respondents that did not use PPE, 61% said that PPE was not provided to them, and 55% said that PPE was hard to get and expensive to buy.

Results showed that PPE use was 32% higher among workers who had knowledge about any occupational health and safety guidelines related to sanitation work than those who not knowledgeable. At the fecal management plants that reported the presence of occupational health and safety personnel, PPE use was 25% higher than the plants without. The prevalence of PPE use among respondents who reported that it was mandatory to use PPE at their workplace was 14% higher than those were it was not mandatory. The prevalence of PPE use among respondents who reported the availability of PPE at their workplace was 53% higher than those did not have PPE at their work places.

Two sanitation workers without all the necessary PPE required during the emptying of a blocked wastewater channel in one of the regions.
Two sanitation workers without all the necessary PPE required during the emptying of a blocked wastewater channel in one of the regions.

From the study, several recommendations were suggested in relation to improved use of PPE. Employers and managers in fecal waste private companies and fecal waste treatment plants were urged to regularly avail PPE to their sanitation workers and provide refresher trainings to reduce exposure to occupational hazards in their work places. These stakeholders were also encouraged to establish, review and strengthen safety policies at sanitation work places.

In addition, study participants expressed their plea to policy makers and other stakeholders to amend the present acts and regulations regarding safety of sanitation workers for easy implementation and enforcement of the such laws. “The Public Health Act needs to urgently be updated because you can find that something about excreta management safety is not clearly specified hence very hard to implement,” said a manager at one of the treatment plants. Participants further emphasized the need for communication of safety regulations for awareness of sanitation workers. One of the sanitation workers said “There should be mass dissemination of these guidelines and the Act so that people know them. Even workers will be able to demand for their rights if they are made aware,”

Some of the managers interviewed said there was inadequate financial support hence the need for increasing funding in occupation health and safety to effectively implement safety activities such as supervision and procurement of necessary equipment. “Another thing is more funding towards occupational health and safety management is needed including for supervision. If there are more trainings for these people [sanitation workers], and there are more resources given to the provision of  adequate PPEs, I think we can do better,” said a manager.

This research study was conducted by a team of researchers from Makerere University School of Public Health led by Dr. David Musoke and Mr. Douglas Bulafu from the Department of Disease Control and Environmental Health. This project was made possible through a research grant from WaterAid. 


Mak’s GMI Labs Authorized to Conduct DNA Paternity Testing



Some of the equipment used to store samples at the Makerere University Biomedical Research Centre (MakBRC), College of Health Sciences (CHS). Kampala Uganda, East Africa.

The Genomics, Molecular, and Immunology Laboratories (GMI Labs), operating under the auspices of the Makerere University Biomedical Research Center (MakBRC), have achieved another significant milestone in their journey of diagnostic excellence. The labs, renowned for their pivotal role in infectious and non-infectious disease research, have received official approval from the Director General Health Services at the Ministry of Health (MoH), Uganda, to conduct DNA Paternity Tests.

Situated at the Dept of Immunology & Molecular Biology under the School of Biomedical Sciences at the College of Health Sciences, Makerere University, the GMI Labs have been at the forefront of cutting-edge research, diagnostic testing, and training initiatives. Their remarkable contributions during the COVID-19 pandemic, where they conducted nearly a million PCR tests, underscored their unwavering commitment to public health and scientific advancement. The labs’ exemplary performance and reliability were further highlighted by their successful management of two critical COVID-19 prevalence surveys. The findings of these surveys served as foundational data for crucial decisions guiding the country’s lockdown strategies and phased reopening, earning commendation from the President and the Ministry of Health.

This latest authorization from the Ministry of Health marks a significant expansion of the GMI Labs’ diagnostic capabilities. With the approval to conduct DNA Paternity Tests, the labs are now equipped to offer a crucial service addressing the need for accurate and reliable genetic testing for determining biological parentage. In a letter dated 22nd November 2023, the Director General Health Services emphasized the laboratory’s rigorous adherence to international standards, proficiency in molecular biology techniques, and their proven track record in delivering precise and credible results. This approval further solidifies the labs’ position as a trusted institution for advanced genetic diagnostics in Uganda.

Prof. Moses L Joloba, the Director of the GMI Labs, expressed immense pride in the team’s dedication and expertise that led to this authorization. He highlighted the labs’ commitment to upholding the highest standards of ethical practice, confidentiality, and accuracy in DNA paternity testing, ensuring the delivery of dependable results crucial for legal, personal, and familial purposes.

The inclusion of DNA Paternity Testing within the GMI Labs’ list of services aligns with their overarching goal of advancing healthcare through state-of-the-art diagnostics, research, and education. This milestone represents not only a significant achievement for the labs but also a valuable resource for individuals seeking reliable and comprehensive genetic testing services. As the GMI Labs continue their unwavering commitment to excellence in healthcare and research, this new capability reaffirms their pivotal role in advancing the frontiers of molecular diagnostics and genetic testing in Uganda, working closely with reputable institutions such as Makerere University Hospital and other top-notch health facilities.

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MNCH e-Post Issue 121: Learning from Nsambya Hospital Human Milk Bank to inform national scale-up & save preterm babies



A Screenshot of Prof. Peter Waiswa during his interview with NTV. MNCH e-Post Issue No. 121, MakSPH, Makerere University, Kampala Uganda, East Africa.

Welcome to this exclusive interview with Prof. Peter Waiswa, lead expert from the Makerere University Centre of Excellence for Maternal, Newborn, and Child Health. Dr. Victoria Nakibuuka from St. Francis Nsambya Hospital, and Dr. Jesca Nsungwa from Ministry of Health Uganda. In this video, they discuss a groundbreaking innovation in Uganda’s healthcare landscape: the country’s first-ever human milk bank at St. Francis Hospital Nsambya. This initiative represents a significant stride towards improving the survival rates of premature and vulnerable infants by ensuring access to essential breast milk, even when mothers are unable to produce enough. Watch Video

Click here to View the full MNCH e-Post Issue 121

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METS Newsletter October 2023



Front Row (Left to Right): The hosts - Dr. Alice Namale and Ms. Evelyn Akello with Commissioner Allan Muruta and representatives from US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Makerere University School of Public Health (MakSPH) enjoy a photo moment on 5th October 2023. Photo: METS. Plot 20A Kawalya Kaggwa Close, Kololo Kampala Uganda, East Africa.

The Monitoring and Evaluation Technical Support (METS) Program is a 5-year CDC-supported collaboration of Makerere University School of Public Health (MakSPH), the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) and Health Information Systems Program (HISP Uganda).

Highlights of the METS October 2023 Newsletter

  • Strategies for Enhanced Disease Surveillance and Public Health Response in Uganda
    • The MoH Department of Integrated Epidemiology Surveillance & Public Health Emergencies (IES&PHE) Head, Commissioner Allan Muruta (Dr) visited METS to acquaint himself with the various surveillance activities supported by the Program.
    • Commissioner Muruta emphasized the need to build the capacity of districts and regions to conduct surveillance activities by training the relevant staff and establishing surveillance focal points at health facility levels.
    • He further emphasized the importance of linking laboratory data to the District Health Information System (DHIS2) and ensuring that different systems are interoperable.
  • Improving quality of data for HIV testing services (HTS) through regular assessments
    • MoH has been conducting Data Quality Assessments and Improvement (DQAI) activities to inform program planning, monitoring, and performance management. HIV testing services (HTS) inter was conducted in 16 regions, 81 districts, and 111 health facilities in partnership with 26 Implementing partners.
    • The HTS DQA has improved data management, infrastructure, and understanding of indicators. Specific staff assignment at each HTS entry point has proven effective, and use of the UgandaEMR system for reporting has yielded positive results.
  • Shaping Uganda’s Healthcare Data Landscape
    • METS has maintained a strong collaboration with the Ministry of Health (MoH) providing invaluable technical support in developing various strategic guidelines for the country. These guidelines include the Uganda Health Information Exchange and Interoperability (HIE) Guidelines, the Uganda Health Data Protection and Confidentiality (HDPC) Guidelines, and the Uganda Health Data Sharing, Access, and Use Guidelines.
    • HIE and HDPC guidelines have received the endorsement of the Health Information, Innovation and Research (HIIRE) Technical Working Group (TWG), awaiting presentation to the senior management team at the MoH for final approval.
  • Empowering Health Professionals: PrEP Training in Hoima District
    • MakSPH-METS has taken a proactive stance in supporting Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) for key populations through the development, management, and conducting trainings on the use of the PrEP tracker system across various agencies.
    • METS conducted a 5-day training on the KP/PrEP Tracker system in Hoima district. Moving forward, facility staff will be able to enter data on PrEP services into the system in a timely manner, analyze the data, and use it for program improvement.
  • Gallery
    • HIV testing services (HTS) Data Quality Assessments and Improvement DQAIs
    • Interagency cervical cancer on-site mentorships
    • Orientation in KP tracker-Soroti
    • TDY from CDC headquarters visit to METS
    • M&E orientation meetings for new Implementing Partners
    • Planning meeting for Cross Border Data Sharing-Busia

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