By Joseph Odoi
Globally, Ticks are the most important vectors of disease-causing pathogens in domestic and wild animals and tick-borne diseases (TBDs) are a major threat to both cattle and human health. Understanding the complex interactions within the microbiome is of great importance for understanding how tick-borne pathogens spread and cause disease.
Inspired by the need to generate evidence to inform policy around Tick borne Diseases, a team of researchers from Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Biomedical Sciences and Veterinary Public Health, Sweden, Makerere University, College of Veterinary Medicine, Animal Resources and Biosecurity, conducted a study to assess diversity of ticks and their Tick Borne Diseases (TBDs) in Uganda from 2017 to 2021.
The researchers organised a dissemination of the project results workshop to stakeholders from various sectors on 27th February, 2023 held at the Centre for Biosecurity and Global Health, College of Veterinary Medicine, Animal Resources and Biosecurity, Makerere University.
Associate Professor Lawrence Mugisha, Co-principal investigator explained that the purpose of the workshop was to share the results of the different research outputs and discuss various ways to re-package the results for different target audiences and to influence policies for tick control strategies in Uganda.
Having set the scene for the workshop, Associate Professor Maja Malmberg, Principal investigator from Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Biomedical Sciences and Veterinary Public Health, Sweden provided a virtual overview of the Project tilted; Ticks and Tick Borne Diseases (TBDs) in Africa. She noted that the overall purpose of the project was to improve cattle health through increased understanding of the microbial community in cattle and ticks, by investigation of the microbial composition (microbiota) of ticks and how this affects transmission and disease development in cattle in Uganda. As part of the study, she noted that the research team were able to generate new knowledge on diversity of tick species, new viruses and highlighted public health implications of the findings. The project had a capacity building component through supporting masters and PhD students and several technical workshop during the project period.
Various presentations of the results from different studies under the project were made by the project investigators and the PhD student Dr. Steven Balinadi who successfully graduated in 2022.
Below are brief project results from the presentations made at the Workshop;
- A total of 15 different tick species were identified in the five study districts of Kasese, Hoima, Soroti, Gulu and Moroto representing different ecological zones. They also reported high tick burden on cattle from all the study districts. They found out the tick species R. appendiculatus (the brown ear tick), the vector for the causative agent for East Coast Fever (“Amashuwo”, “Amakebe”) was most common tick on cattle in all districts (51.79%) followed by A. variegatum (14.33%) and R. evertsi (8.23%) and continue to dominate tick distribution in Uganda. The team also found ticks that were not known to be in Uganda including Rhipicephalus afranicus that was recently described in South Africa and Rhipicephalus microplus, expanding its geographical zones found ion cattle in Gulu and Soroti districts.
- The team further identified 8 viruses from the blood of cattle suspected to be transmitted by ticks and mosquitoes belonging to 4 viral families (Flaviviridae, Peribunyaviridae, Reoviridae and Rhabdoviridae) and 6 genera (Hepacivirus, Pestivirus, Orthobunyavirus, Coltivirus, Dinovernavirus and Ephemerovirus) among 175 studied cattle. Four of the viruses were new and were tentatively named Zikole virus (Family: Flaviviridae), Zeboroti virus (Family: Reoviridae), Zebtine virus (Family: Rhabdoviridae) and Kokolu virus (Family:Rhabdoviridae). This contributes to the body of the new knowledge in the field of virology. However, they were quick to mention the public implications of all viruses and new viruses remains to be understood through more studies.
- Part of the research assessed cattle exposure to Crimean Congo Haemorrhagic Fever (CCHF) Virus a zoonotic disease of public health importance transmitted by ticks. The study found that 74% (500) of the studied cattle from five districts were exposed to the virus. This raises a big concern a potential source of infections to humans. This concern is verified by the results of investigating 32 CCHF confirmed human cases of the recorded outbreaks between 2013 and 2019. Of the 32 hospitalised human CCHF cases, 32% of them died. Most cases presented with fever (93.8%), followed by hemorrhage (81.3%), headache (78.1%), fatigue (68.8%), vomiting (68.8%) and myalgia (65.6%) and other symptoms. The researchers were able to characterise the CCHF viruses circulating in Uganda, a break through that can inform vaccine and diagnostic tool development.
- Further, looking at the ticks themselves using advanced technologies, ticks were found to carry several viruses most of the unknown and new. The team has at least found 20 new viruses in the ticks and the team will be conducting further studies to understand the implications of the so many viruses in relation to animal and human health.
The team presented potential Public Health Implications of their study results as:
• High diversity and burden of ticks infesting cattle in Uganda has potential for a high pathogen load
• Evidence for range expansion of some tick species; risk for disease emergence in naïve animal and human populations around the country
• Cattle in Uganda are harbouring numerous viruses including novel ones
• CCHF is widespread in Uganda, including where human cases have not been detected. And its endemicity does not overlap with the spatial distribution of Hyalomma ticks
Participants of the stakeholder’s dissemination workshop discussed the results and provided feedback. Out of the discussion, it was generally agreed and proposed that deliberate actions need to be undertaken if we are to address the current challenges posed by ticks and their tick-borne diseases. Participants emphasised the following areas that require immediate attention;
- The need for improved surveillance and diagnostic tools for emerging viruses in animals to prevent their transmission to humans.
- The need for the Government investment in advanced technologies and equipment for improved surveillance, detection, and rapid response to any emerging virus outbreak from ticks and their pathogens.
- There is need to understand the cultural and social context: Therefore, any policy or intervention aimed at preventing disease transmission should take into account the cultural and social practices of the communities involved.
- The government should engage with local communities, listen to their concerns, and incorporate their knowledge and perspectives in developing disease control policies.
- The government should prioritize research and development of strategies to control ticks and prevent tick-borne diseases in both humans and animals. This includes conducting awareness campaigns, developing policies, and providing resources to prevent tick infestation and tick-borne diseases.
- Employ One Health approach: that considers the interactions between human, animal, and environmental health.
- More funding and support for tick-borne disease research and control programs in Uganda and other high-risk areas.
- Integration of livestock and human health surveillance and control measures to prevent the transmission of tick-borne diseases.
- Development of community-based tick control strategies that incorporate local knowledge and practices to increase their relevance and effectiveness.
- Collaboration between government agencies, researchers, and communities to implement effective tick-borne disease control strategies.
In his remarks at the engagement, Dr. Kenneth Mugabi, a Senior Veterinary Officer at Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries congratulated the team of researchers for undertaking the value based research adding that it will help inform policy to address ticks and tick borne diseases in the country. He equally noted the urgent need for more innovation to discover and develop vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics options to respond to the increasing challenges of ticks and tick-borne diseases. Additionally he equally thanked the study funders for partnering with Makerere University to undertake the study.
Dr. Ekwaro Obuku from Makerere University College of Health Sciences in his emphasized the importance of researchers tailoring research in a way that it speaks to policy makers adding that researchers should use all avenue to influence policy initiatives for public good. He equally proposed for the need for researchers to have a data bank around Ticks and Tick-Borne Diseases.
The stakeholders’ workshop attracted over 70 participants ranging from government officials, academia, media, farmers and one- health officials among others.
Key issues discussed by participants include; Policy brief to address Tick and Tick-Borne diseases, Development of community-based tick control strategies that incorporate local knowledge and practices,one-health approach in addressing ticks and Tick-Borne diseases ,Importance of engagement with local communities affected by ticks and Tick-Borne ,the need for effective communication by researchers to influence policy, need to develop diagnostic tools and model based surveillance for early detection and early warning about Vector borne diseases among others
Principal investigator: Dr. Maja Malmberg – Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Biomedical Sciences and Veterinary Public Health, Sweden
Co-PI in Uganda: Assoc. Professor Lawrence Mugisha – Makerere University, College of Veterinary Medicine, Animal Resources and Biosecurity, Uganda and Ecohealth Research Group, Conservation & Ecosystem Health Alliance, Uganda
PhD student: Mr. Stephen Balinandi – Uganda Virus Research Institute, Uganda and Makerere University, College of Veterinary Medicine, Animal Resources and Biosecurity, Uganda
Professor Erik Bongcam Rudloff – Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Animal Breeding and Genetics, Sweden
Dr. Erika Chenais – National Veterinary Institute, Sweden
Assoc. Professor Klara Fischer – Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Rural and Urban Development, Sweden
Dr. Lidia Chitimia-Dobler – Bundeswehr Institute of Microbiology and University of Hohenheim, Department of Parasitology, Germany
Dr. John Pettersson – Uppsala University, Department of Medical Biochemistry and Microbiology, Sweden
Dr. Juliette Hayer – Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Department of Animal Breeding and Genetics, Sweden
Professor Mikael Berg – Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Biomedical Sciences and Veterinary Public Health, Sweden
Dr. Giulio Grandi – Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Biomedical Sciences and Veterinary Public Health, Sweden
Assoc. Professor Ingrid Hansson – Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences, Biomedical Sciences and Veterinary Public Health, Sweden
Stakeholders to take on Electronic Rabies Surveillance using a One Health Approach in the control of Rabies
Stakeholders in the Rabies Elimination project in Uganda (eRabies) have intensified efforts aimed at the use of electronic Rabies Surveillance using a One Health approach in the efforts towards elimination of rabies in Uganda.
A two-day workshop was convened at the College of Veterinary Medicine, Animal Resources and Biosecurity (CoVAB), Makerere University from 28th-29th August 2023, during which the stakeholders deliberated on a number of proposals for the best applicable surveillance tools to address One Health concerns in the effort towards the elimination of Rabies.
‘The purpose of the meeting is to hear from various actors and see what works for us, to enable us collect information and have it shared in a sustained way with One Health as a key component’ said Prof. Clovice Kankya, the Head, Department of Biosecurity, Ecosystems and Veterinary Public Health at CoVAB, at the start of the meeting held in the Centre for Biosecurity and Global Health.
Kankya noted that with one year of implementation to date, the eRabies project was progressing well drawing a lot of support from the implementing local Governments of Kyegegwa, Soroti and Kampala Capital City Authority that spearhead the community engagements and other related activities. He said the graduate fellows from the Ministry of Health and Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries supported by the project were also on schedule.
He said Rabies is a global challenge being a zoonotic disease affecting the entire world more so here in Africa where there is close interaction between the wild animals and the human population. The Uganda Wildlife Authority, he said, was brought on board specifically Queen Elizabeth National Park to address some of the challenges affecting people drawing from the wild animals.
The Deputy Principal CoVAB, Prof. James Acai Okwee, in his opening remarks noted through the eRabies project, Makerere University and the host CoVAB were consolidating efforts towards the control of rabies in Uganda. ‘In as much as Rabies is a killer 100%, it is also preventable 100%’ observed Prof. Acai, adding that Makerere University and CoVAB specifically have been involved in such efforts through filed activities, vaccinations and animal welfare programs aimed at the control of rabies. He said through research, such efforts were to be intensified from a scientifically informed point of view.
Prof. Sonja Hartnack, from the Vetsuisse Faculty, University of Zurich, one of the partners gave an overview of the project. She said the four-year project has seven different work packages while emphasizing that presently, the stakeholders were addressing work package one, that entails Surveillance systems and integrated bite case management. She noted that the communities were crucial in the rabies control efforts and specifically in identifying the barriers for rabies control through research interventions and the development of educational materials for awareness creation.
She made reference to the World organization for Animal Health (WOAH) recommended practices that points out that dog owners are clearly identified as one way through which the barriers to dog vaccination can be addressed in the communities and emphasized responsible dog ownership.
She said it was important to assess which vaccinations approaches are most successful in terms of vaccination coverage, whether there were static points vaccinations, or linked to institutions like Schools or other Veterinary activities or even human health related activities. She said through quantitative and qualitative research, the eRabies project was set to establish what works. She also pointed out the need to increase the laboratory capacity at regional levels as well as taking on rapid tests in the field.
Prof. Sonja Hartnack said the deliberations in the meeting were to inform the efforts towards having an integrated bite case management (IBCM) system by looking at different systems, picking out key data elements, reviewing the challenges of the existing processes for a proper One Health approach.
Dr. Andrew Kambugu, Director, Infectious Disease Institute (IDI) one of the key partners in the eRabies project extended appreciation to the Swiss Government and the Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) for the grant that is supporting the implementation of the activities. He referred to COVID-19, a Zoonotic disease that affected many people as having come from the contact between animals and humans. He said the model that would come out of the meeting was to be relevant to many. He emphasized the need for increased collaboration between different agencies in Africa, where he noted that many were working in silos. He affirmed that IDI was to give all relevant support needed in the eRabies project.
The deliberations in the workshop shared experiences from varied stakeholders that included the Infectious Diseases Institute experiences of Rabies Surveillance in West Nile region, the respective implementing Local Governments, Ministry of Health and Ministry of Agriculture Animal Industry and Fisheries.
Participants identified some of the challenges experienced in timely dog bites reporting that need to be addressed in the surveillance. They included late reporting by the victims, failure to capture data from the private Veterinary Medicine practitioners that handle a number of cases in the communities, omission of the wildlife Veterinarians in the reporting system and the little interaction between the Human Health practitioners and the Veterinarians, coupled with the limited data sharing avenues.
The eRabies project is implemented by Makerere University College of Veterinary Medicine, Animal Resources and Biosecurity (CoVAB), Infectious Diseases Institute (IDI) in collaboration with the Vetsuisse Faculties, Universities of Bern and Zurich from Switzerland. It is contributing to efforts towards elimination of Rabies by 2030.
UK-based Centre for Environment, Fisheries & Aquaculture Science (Cefas) seeks collaboration with CoVAB in Aquatic Animal Health
The College of Veterinary Medicine, Animal Resources and Biosecurity on 8th August 2023, hosted a team from the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science, an executive agency for the UK Government’s Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.
Dr. Richard Paley and Mr. Andrew Wokorac Joseph of the Environment and Animal Health group were in the College courtesy of Dr. John Walakira from the National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO). Their visit is aimed at forging collaboration and support diagnostic and research activities pertaining to aquatic animal health.
The team was welcome to the College by the Principal, Prof. Frank Nobert Mwiine, represented by the Dean, School of Veterinary Medicine and Animal Resources, Prof. Robert Tweyongyere. While extending appreciation for the upcoming collaboration, the Principal noted that Uganda is one of the main producers of fisheries products in Sub-Saharan Africa and it is the second largest foreign exchange earner for Uganda. He said the interventions in the collaboration were pertinent given the declining production that is also negatively affecting national and household income and food security which is being addressed by the Government of Uganda through promotion of aquaculture.
Prof. Mwiine highlighted some of the challenges affecting aquaculture that include lack of quality feed and seed as well as technical expertise. He said although fish diseases are yet to be considered a major challenge, with the advances in aquaculture, there is bound to be frequent disease outbreaks. He said anti-microbial resistance and drug residues were inevitable because in the process of managing fish disease, antibiotics are administered. Further he pointed out the limited knowledge and skills in fish health management which falls in the docket of veterinaries but few are well equipped with the requisite skills and knowledge.
He made reference to Makerere University’s vision of innovative teaching, learning and services responsive to national and global needs, and the strategic direction of enhancing and strengthening partnerships with industry, the community through multiple collaborations with universities and other research institutions regionally and globally.
The Principal informed the team that Makerere University offers comprehensive training programs in aquaculture, fisheries production and aquatic animal health at CoVAB and the College of Natural Sciences (CoNAS). He said at CoVAB, research in aquatic animal health has expanded to cover core areas of biosecurity and ecosystem health following the one health approach. He emphasized the need for increased collaborative ties and networks with the private sector, research institutions, universities and technical agencies, working closely with the fish farmers.
He explained that at CoVAB, the two Schools synergistically offer training across the graduate and undergraduate programs. He highlighted some of the fisheries/aquaculture research projects ongoing that include Safe Fish that is investigating phages as alternatives to antibiotic use in fish management; Novel Feeds, that is developing a feed formulation for fish larvae; Bioconversion of Industrial waste products in Nile perch , Artificial Intelligence system to balance water quality and feed; Capacity Building in aquatic animal health and environmental health as well as probiotics for use on Tilapia and Nile Perch farms.
Dr. John Walakira from the National Agricultural Research Organization (NARO) noted that there was potential for a long-term relationship between CoVAB and NARO and urged the college to identify gaps that need to be filled in future in the aquaculture industry. He said the team was in the college to establish what it can do in the industry, noting that issues of diseases are recurrent and a preserve of the veterinarians. He noted that aquaculture animal health was growing very fast with over 2.5 billion fingerlings in the region and in the process, diseases are on the increase.
He said the team from Cefas was in the college to establish what was on ground for example the graduate courses as well as training for the practitioners in the industry. He said Africa has been without aquaculture related diseases but now they are getting reported and veterinarians called to take up the challenge. Because of the rich resources in Uganda, it’s time to train practitioners, he said, and that Makerere University especially CoVAB is a focal point especially in dealing with such diseases.
Dr. Richard Paley from the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquatic Science (Cefas) while briefing the meeting said Cefas is an International Centre of Excellence involved in the maintenance of the health of wild and farmed seafood to minimize loss and maximize food security. He said as a world leader in marine science and technology, Cefas collects, manages and interprets data on the aquatic environment, biodiversity and fisheries. He their Weymouth lab has over 1100 scientists dedicated to aquatic health bringing together all the necessary disciplines that among many include disease inspection, diagnosis, research and development, microbiology, virology and many more.
The World Organisation for Animal Health (WOAH) designated Cefas as the WOAH Collaborating Centre for Emerging Aquatic Animal Diseases. He said their aim is to function as a global resource for health and disease research, diagnostics, pathogen detection and description, and knowledge sharing associated with aquatic animals. The meeting was attended among others by the Assoc. Prof. Jesca Nakavuma who is also undertaking research in Safe Fish that is investigating phages as alternatives to antibiotic use in fish management, as well as Veterinary medicine students.
COVAB capacity building engagement on Human Capital Development in Science, Technology, and Innovation Industrialization
The College of Veterinary Medicine, Animal Resources and Bio-security (COVAB) Human Capital Development Project held a five-day capacity building training at Esella Hotel, Kira to equip the project’s staff and protégé with knowledge and skills in product value chain industrialization.
During the workshop which ran from 24th to 28th July 2023 staff and Protégé were imparted with knowledge on commercialization of an innovative product, strategic financial management, strategic planning and management, business planning, policy formulation and management.
At the opening ceremony, the Superintendent of Industrial Value Chains Development, Science, Technology, and Innovation (STI)- Office of the President, Dr. Cosmas Mwikirize pointed out that people were the most important in the process of development.
“In the development tree, people are the most important ingredient to development. No country can be better than the quality of its human resource,” said Dr. Mwikirize, adding that the mentorship model is important given that it gives opportunity to people to develop technologies, and hence no need to look for jobs.”
He further encouraged participants to embrace Science, Technology, and Innovation because of its big contribution to national GDP. “STI is the way out, and if you want a good place to invest your money, look at your students who have good ideas and start pulling resources. Invest in your people’s ideas and you will not go wrong,” said Dr. Mwikirize.
The protégés who participated in the workshop were all spread under STI Value Chain Economies which include the engineering economy, mobility, beauty and apparel, the digital economy, Agro security and the pathogenic economy.
In his welcome remarks, the Principal for the College of Veterinary Medicine, Animal Resources and Biosecurity, Prof. Frank Norbert Mwiine appreciated government support towards research and mentorship initiatives. “We thank the Government of Uganda for the support towards research and innovation through funding several projects, and for equipping the University with resources and laboratories for quality research,” said Prof. Mwiine.
Prof. Mwiine further emphasized the benefits of research, stating that nations need research to evolve. Further, he emphasized that research and innovation is the way through whcih the University gives back to society.
The Human Capital Development Project is championed by Dr. Claire Mack Mugasa, who is the Principal Investigator of this initiative. Dr. Mugasa highlighted the need for equipping scientists, researchers and innovators with specialized techniques which is a critical aspect in national development and industrialization.
“We have our scientists and innovators working separately and are not in touch with one another in their production lines, but with this mentorship programme, we are ensuring that the scientists have specialized skills, techniques, and knowledge that is key in industrialization,” said Dr. Mugasa, adding that, “with some amount of redirection and orientation, the scientists will be brought together in a foundry network.”
The Human Capital Development Initiative is funded by the Government of Uganda through Science, Technology, and Innovation-Office of the President.
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