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Veterinary & Biosecurity

An Interdisciplinary approach addressing Ticks and Tick-borne Diseases of cattle in Uganda

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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.

Associate Professor Lawrence Mugisha highlighting purpose of the Workshop.
Associate Professor Lawrence Mugisha highlighting purpose of the Workshop.

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.

Some of the interdisciplinary participants listening to Associate Professor Maja Malmberg’s Virtual Presentation.
Some of the interdisciplinary participants listening to Associate Professor Maja Malmberg’s Virtual Presentation.

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.

Dr. Ekwaro Obuku speaking at the stakeholders' workshop.
Dr. Ekwaro Obuku speaking at the stakeholders’ workshop.

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

PROJECT TEAM

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

Veterinary & Biosecurity

Makerere University Anti-Tick Vaccine Project Committee Visits Production Site in Namanve

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Makerere University Anti-Tick Vaccine Project Committee visit to Alfasan Uganda Ltd on 24th June 2024, Namanve, Waikiso Uganda, East Africa.

The Makerere University Anti-Tick Vaccine Project Committee visited Alfasan Uganda Ltd on 24th June 2024 to review the advancements in the Anti-tick vaccine project, particularly focusing on the progress in the establishment of the vaccine production line at Alfasan Uganda Limited. This visit signifies a significant milestone in the ongoing partnership between Makerere University and Alfasan, as they work together towards the creation of a successful Anti-Tick vaccine.

The Principal Investigator (PI) of the Anti-Tick Vaccine Project, Dr. Margaret Saimo-Kahwa welcomed the team and gave a brief overview of the project’s operations. She highlighted Alfasan’s expertise in manufacturing veterinary and human drugs and the suggestion by H.E, the President of Uganda gave in view of the collaboration between Alfasan and Makerere University for the production of the Anti-Tick vaccine. The PI assured team that Alfasan was fully equipped to develop the vaccine in  adherence with the standards set by the National Drug Authority.

Dr. Margaret Saimo-Kahwa, PI of the Anti-Tick Vaccine showing the Committee some of the verification equipment at Alfasan. Makerere University Anti-Tick Vaccine Project Committee visit to Alfasan Uganda Ltd on 24th June 2024, Namanve, Wakiso Uganda, East Africa.
Dr. Margaret Saimo-Kahwa, PI of the Anti-Tick Vaccine showing the Committee some of the verification equipment at Alfasan.

The Managing Director of Alfasan, Dr. Stephen Birungi said he was delighted to work with Makerere University, where he once studied at the College of Veterinary Medicine, Animal Resources, and Biosecurity (CoVAB). He said a successful collaboration was key in ensuring further advancements and innovations in the field of veterinary medicine.

The Chairperson of Makerere University’s Anti-Tick Vaccine Project Steering Committee, Prof. Henry Alinaitwe emphasized the national significance of the project, and that it was catered for in the national budget. He outlined the division of equipment between Makerere University and Alfasan, stressing the importance of the visit to assess the progress at the Anti-Tick Vaccine production site in Namanve.

The Chairperson of Makerere University Anti-Tick Vaccine Project Committee, who is also the Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Finance and Administration, Prof. Henry Alinaitwe, together with the CoVAB Principal Prof. Frank Norbert Mwiine took a guided tour around the Vaccine Production Facility. Makerere University Anti-Tick Vaccine Project Committee visit to Alfasan Uganda Ltd on 24th June 2024, Namanve, Wakiso Uganda, East Africa.
The Chairperson of Makerere University Anti-Tick Vaccine Project Committee, who is also the Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor, Finance and Administration, Prof. Henry Alinaitwe, together with the CoVAB Principal Prof. Frank Norbert Mwiine took a guided tour around the Vaccine Production Facility.

The facility Pharmacist at Alfasan, Mr. Ivan Kafeero provided a brief history of the company, highlighting its transformation from an international collaboration to a prominent private entity in Uganda. The collaboration between Alfasan and Makerere University resulted in the joint production of a laboratory experimental vaccine in 2022, necessitating the facility’s upgrade to accommodate vaccine production alongside pharmaceuticals.

During the tour of the vaccine production facility led by Mr. Kafeero, various departments were showcased, including raw material warehouses, production sections, laboratories, and packaging rooms. The comprehensive tour demonstrated the facility’s readiness for vaccine production and emphasized the critical need for sustainable energy and water sources to support the operations effectively.

The Project Committee and the Project team during the guided tour around the vaccine manufacturing facility led by the facility Pharmacist, Mr. Ivan Kafeero. Makerere University Anti-Tick Vaccine Project Committee visit to Alfasan Uganda Ltd on 24th June 2024, Namanve, Wakiso Uganda, East Africa.
The Project Committee and the Project team during the guided tour around the vaccine manufacturing facility led by the facility Pharmacist, Mr. Ivan Kafeero.
The Project Committee and the Project team during the guided tour around the vaccine manufacturing facility led by the facility Pharmacist, Mr. Ivan Kafeero. Makerere University Anti-Tick Vaccine Project Committee visit to Alfasan Uganda Ltd on 24th June 2024, Namanve, Wakiso Uganda, East Africa.
The Project Committee and the Project team during the guided tour around the vaccine manufacturing facility led by the facility Pharmacist, Mr. Ivan Kafeero.

Following discussions and observations during the visit, the Committee Chairperson commended the progress achieved thus far and confirmed plans for a follow-up visit in two months to monitor the facility’s operational readiness for commencing production.

The collaborative partnership between Makerere University and Alfasan signifies a ground-breaking initiative in animal healthcare research and underscores the potential for significant advancements in combating tick-borne diseases through innovative collaborations and dedicated efforts.

The meeting between Makerere University Anti-Tick Vaccine Project Committee, the Anti-Tick Vaccine Project team, and the Team from Alfasan on 24th June 2024. Makerere University Anti-Tick Vaccine Project Committee visit to Alfasan Uganda Ltd on 24th June 2024, Namanve, Wakiso Uganda, East Africa.
The meeting between Makerere University Anti-Tick Vaccine Project Committee, the Anti-Tick Vaccine Project team, and the Team from Alfasan on 24th June 2024.

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Veterinary & Biosecurity

CoVAB Annual Report 2023

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The Principal CoVAB, Prof. Frank Norbert Mwiine. College of Veterinary Medicine, Animal Resources and Biosecurity (CoVAB), Makerere University, Kampala Uganda, East Africa.

It is my pleasure to share the Annual Report for the year 2023, which highlights various milestones realized in the College of Veterinary Medicine, Animal Resources, and Biosecurity. First and foremost, I wish to congratulate all of us for the input rendered in the running of the college during the period, which effort made us score in several areas as prescribed by the mandate of the college and Makerere University as a whole.

Our mandate is teaching and learning, research and innovation, as well as knowledge transfer and partnerships. As you will realize in this report, this task has been handled meticulously through a concerted effort by all stakeholders, the students, the teaching, and the administrative staff and partners. The college takes pride in the contribution made by our partners who continue to support us in the delivery of the mandate in varied ways, such as Norbrook (U) Ltd, which since 2021 has continued to prize the best performing Veterinary students with cash prizes every year.

The College continues to excel in research and community outreach as evidenced by the increased research output in several Biomedical and Applied research projects with support from the Government of Uganda and our development partners which for instance resulted in the establishment of a Biomarker discovery and translation research laboratory at COVAB. Equipment was procured to support the development of point-of-care diagnostic kits for infectious and non-communicable diseases including cancer. The goal is to translate identified biomarkers into point-of-care diagnostics for both human and veterinary medicine. The platform supports drug target discovery and elucidation of drug action mechanisms.

The college hosts a Central Laboratory Animal Research Facility that support pre-clinical studies in animal models for vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics, alongside refurbished laboratories at Biosafety Levels 2 and 3 (BSL2, BSL3), fitted with state-of-the-art equipment to execute cutting edge basic and applied research.

This and other efforts strategically place CoVAB and Makerere at large in a position to confront major animal and even human health challenges as significant proportions of emerging and reemerging infectious diseases are of animal origin (Zoonotic).

We are looking forward to an even more successful period ahead of us, and together definitely we shall achieve all we set out to do.

Prof. Frank Nobert Mwiine
PRINCIPAL

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Veterinary & Biosecurity

The 2024 Summer School and the International Cultural Boma and AFROHUN Showcase at CoVAB

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Participants follow proceedings. The 2024 Summer School and the International Cultural Boma and AFROHUN Showcase, June 20th, 2024, Ruth Keesling Centre, College of Veterinary Medicine, Animal Resources, and Biosecurity (CoVAB), Makerere University, Kampala Uganda, East Africa.

The 2024 Summer School and the International Cultural Boma and AFROHUN Showcase was held on June 20th, 2024, at the Ruth Keeslings Centre, College of Veterinary Medicine, Animal Resources, and Biosecurity, and for the first time involved CoVAB students.

The Boma was the final event of this year’s CoVAB-Mississippi State University’s (MSU) Tropical Veterinary Medicine and One Health Study Abroad program which started on May 31, 2024. The study abroad course focuses on animal production and health management, conservation medicine, aquatic health, wildlife health, public health, food safety, and security, as well as inculcating One Health principles while suffusing multicultural experiences.

During the presentations, the participants expressed what they enjoyed most while on the program and this included observing the human-wildlife interactions, working on wildlife and the identified difference between the US and Uganda, the animal welfare champion, as well as having Ugandan students included on the program.

Prof. Frank Nobert Mwiine, CoVAB Principal (C) Dr. Sarah Nalule, HoD WAAR (L) and Dr. David Kahwa Lecturer WAAR (R). The 2024 Summer School and the International Cultural Boma and AFROHUN Showcase, June 20th, 2024, Ruth Keesling Centre, College of Veterinary Medicine, Animal Resources, and Biosecurity (CoVAB), Makerere University, Kampala Uganda, East Africa.
Prof. Frank Nobert Mwiine, CoVAB Principal (C) Dr. Sarah Nalule, HoD WAAR (L) and Dr. David Kahwa Lecturer WAAR (R).

The Principal, Prof. Frank Nobert Mwiine officiated at the event characterized by sharing the student’s experiences through presentations made before academicians, researchers, and students.  In his remarks, he said the Boma was a great avenue for sharing information and learning from each other drawing from the experiences of the students while out in the community and the wild. Prof. Mwiine commended Mississippi State University for the long relationship they have had with CoVAB and appreciated the inclusion of the Uganda students into the program. He expressed optimism that the summer school will grow into problem-solving partnerships in research, training, and community development.

During the three weeks excursions in Uganda, participating students from Mississippi State University together with their counterparts from CoVAB engaged in experiential field trips with hands-on experience at the interfaces between animals, humans, and the environment.

The Team from Mississippi University appreciated CoVAB for the lead role in organizing the Summer School that brought the students into contact with new areas with most of them being in Africa for the first time.  He said the summer school was opening up opportunities for further collaboration in areas like student exchange programs as well as graduate research.  It was a great experience for the students to move out of their area to the unknown and the exposure left lifelong in print on the student’s academic, practice, and outlook towards life, said the representative of Prof. Stephen Reichley, the team leader.

Participants pose for a group picture in front of the Centre for Global Health, CoVAB. The 2024 Summer School and the International Cultural Boma and AFROHUN Showcase, June 20th, 2024, Ruth Keesling Centre, College of Veterinary Medicine, Animal Resources, and Biosecurity (CoVAB), Makerere University, Kampala Uganda, East Africa.
Participants pose for a group picture in front of the Centre for Global Health, CoVAB.

Dr. Celsus Sente the Summer School coordinator and lecturer in the Department of Wildlife and Aquatic Resources (WAAR) said the three-week expedition was a great field experiential learning opportunity using one health approach.  Students went to different places including Gaba Fish Landing Site, the Murchison conservation area, Mbarara Abattoir where they interacted with the meat inspectors, Kibaale conservation area where they observed wildlife practical activities like birds, undertook activities involving cattle, and goats as well as the feel of the interface between the environment, humans, and animal health, the one health approach at the fishing villages there.

A team makes a presentation at the Boma. The 2024 Summer School and the International Cultural Boma and AFROHUN Showcase, June 20th, 2024, Ruth Keesling Centre, College of Veterinary Medicine, Animal Resources, and Biosecurity (CoVAB), Makerere University, Kampala Uganda, East Africa.
A team makes a presentation at the Boma.

The Boma as a concept in an African context means a meeting that allows learning and a two-way exchange of information between elders and youngsters. African culture involves the transfer of wisdom and knowledge from wise, knowledgeable, and highly experienced elders to the young who are mentored into responsible community members. The concept was therefore used to allow the opportunity to share knowledge from all stakeholders as experienced in the course of learning.

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