Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Regional Tuberculosis Laboratory opens in Uganda

By Esther Nakkazi

A Supra National Reference Laboratory (SRL) that can diagnose Multi-Drug Resistant Tuberculosis (MDR-TB) and monitor other Tuberculosis laboratories in the East African region on safety and quality control is open in Uganda.

Tuberculosis is highly infectious, hard to diagnose and is transmitted through the air we breathe. The average TB patient infects 10-15 others each year before they cure or die. Every year, TB kills more adults worldwide than any disease but HIV. 200 children die from TB every day yet it costs less than 3 cents a day to provide therapy that will prevent it says the TB Alliance.

In the East African region, Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda are all in the world’s 22 high-burden countries for Tuberculosis and rank 14th, 15th and 16th respectively according to the 2012 WHO rankings. Uganda, particularly, has increasing cases of MDR-TB with about 5,000 people dying each year in Uganda as a result of TB and it remains the leading cause of death among people who are HIV positive.

“We can now work on 60-100 samples per day and we shall be able to triple this soon. We are now doing business better, sending back results electronically and we have the capacity to provide services to the laboratory network in the region,” said Prof. Moses Joloba the Director, Supra National Reference Laboratory-Uganda. The lab is already receiving samples from Tanzania, Kenya, Zambia and Kenya.

The Uganda National Tuberculosis Reference Laboratory (NTRL) attained Supra National status granted by the World Health Organization (WHO) by recommendation from the Global Laboratory Initiative (GLI) last week becoming only the second in Africa after South Africa.
As a result of its certification, the laboratory can now offer affordable, TB diagnostic services efficiently for the African region, and also gives clinicians a second opinion on TB samples and confidence in the results attained.

According to Dr. Francis Adatu, the former National Tuberculosis and Leprosy Programmes Manager, Supra National status means the results from the lab are trusted, there is regular quality control and it gives Uganda a monitoring and leadership role.

“The laboratory system continues to be one of the weakest links in our health systems yet it is important that results given to clinicians are credible,” said Dr. Josephine Kibaru-Mbae, the director general of East, Central and Southern Africa (ECSA) Health Community.

“The NTRL is strategic and a step in the regional integration process. The laboratory will reduce costs, time and tests that cannot be done by national laboratories will be sent here,” said Kibaru-Mbae. Previously, the TB samples were sent to South Africa and Europe.

Now, the NTRL will provide quality laboratory TB diagnostic and Management services to the region and strengthen the national tuberculosis diagnostic network by offering leadership, training, supervisions and expert guidance, said Prof. Moses Joloba.

NTRL’s diagnostic capability ranges from Fluorescent microscopy to solid and liquid culture, elaborate external Quality Assessment of Acid Fast Bacilli (AFB) microscopy and geneXpert. It has also established an in country TB specimen Referral System (TSRS) to enable active surveillance of the prevalence and incidences of possible Drug resisting TB emergence.

“The cost of treatment is lower with accurate testing and reliable laboratory results. We shall now focus on performance and sustainability,” said the Ruhakana Rugunda the minister of Health. He promised that government will build a bigger facility to house the Supra National laboratory in Butabika, near Kampala.

Previously, it took 17 days get samples from all over the region to the Laboratory, now it takes only 48 hours using the Posta system. The can now handle over 3,000 samples from 153 in 2008. The certification was supported by USAID and the U.S Centers for Diseases Control (CDC).


Friday, July 19, 2013

Over one Million Euro for Research Projects in sub-Saharan Africa

Press Release: University of Cologne - Universität zu Köln

In many African countries food production per capita is in decline. Population growth, urbanization processes, soil degradation, resource conflict, globalized manufacturing as well as increasing climate variability are, inter alia, responsible for these trends. The Department of Cultural and Social Anthropology at the University of Cologne is researching these pressing problems within the framework of five collaborative research projects.

The research projects have funding of 1.1 million Euro and will directly contribute to the work of the UoC key profile area IV: “Social-economic, Cultural and Political Transformations in the Global South.” The projects have a social-economic research focus and are planned to run from three to four years. They take an interdisciplinary approach and will be involved in the training of young academics from Europe and Africa. The new projects will contribute to the understanding of current trends and the identifying of solutions for problems of the future.

Prof. Michael Bollig is participating in an EU funded prestigious Marie Curie Initial Training Network (ITN). Together with colleagues from Sweden, England, France and Belgium, he is looking at the development and current use of cultural landscapes in East Africa from archaeological, historical and ethnological perspectives within the framework of the project “Resilience in East African Landscapes: Identifying critical thresholds and sustainable trajectories – past, present and future (REAL).” Fragmented land use in North Kenya and the globalization of agricultural products in central Kenya (going on the example of cut flowers) are central themes to the research.

A further project “Local Institutions in Globalized Societies LINGS”, which is analysing the transformation of communal water management in the long term, has also been granted a further phase of project funding by the German Research Foundation (DFG).

In addition to this, Michael Bollig is involved in the DFG funded interdisciplinary research group “Resilience, collapse and reorganisation in complex coupled social-ecological systems (SES) in Africa (RCR)” (FG1501),

A project that sees natural scientists, social scientists and scholars of cultural studies working together to document and analyze human and natural processes in south and east African Savannahs. Here Professor Bollig is examining, inter alia, the consequences of the rapid expansion of invasive species of plants on existing land use practices and social dynamics in the context of the global floral industry at Lake Naivasha in Kenya. 

Within the framework of the same research group (FG1501), Dr. Clemens Greiner and his colleagues from the Department of Geography at the University of Bonn, has received funding for a working group, which plans to research how migration between urban and rural areas in Kenya and South Africa affects the use of resources in the regions of origin of the migrant workers.

In addition to this, Dr. Greiner is supervising the sub-project “Wetlands in East Africa – Reconciling future food production with environmental protection” a collaborative research project of the funding project GlobE “Securing the Global Food Supply.” The project, which is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, is examining the increasing significance of wetlands in drylands and their role for securing food supply in Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda. 

Academics and scientists from German and African universities are researching agricultural earning potential and the sustainability of existing and future forms of land use. Gender, health aspects, peri-urban land use change as well as the changing institutional architecture are at the focus of the anthropological research.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Uganda backs EAC regional baseline survey

Press Release from EAC:
The Ministry of East African Comnmunity Affairs has commended the undertaking by the EAC Secretariat to conduct baseline survey on the regional integration process.

‘’Your baseline survey is very important as your mission’s findings will enable policy makers and planners with which speed to reckon in the deepening and widening EAC integration,’’ the acting Permanent Secretary Steven Niyonzima told the about ten-man EAC team which paid a courtesy call to the EAC Ministry before setting out for their first-leg in Uganda tomorrow.

He assured that his ministry would render full support to the team to ensure it completes it’s week-long mission succesfully in the country.

He said that EAC developed and approved the Communications policy last year and the baseline survey is in line with the aspirations of the Community. ‘’Our integration is for all East Africans and thus we need to know how the people are perceiving our efforts,’’ he told the delegation.

The EAC survey team’s leadert Sukhdev Chhatbar thanked the Ugandan government for demonstrating unwavering commitment to the regional integration process.

Mr Chhatbar, a media expert, said that baseline survey would enable the Partner States make the Community vibrant and attractive.

The study, to be undertaken in all five Partner States of Burundi, Kenya,Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda, will be conducted between 16 July and 24 August, 2013. The study will be conducted both through on line questionnaires and field face-to-face interviews in selected and strategic cities and border towns.

The study is expected to give us an insight into how some of the key target audiences perceive EAC, how well they know it, how familiar they are with the symbols of the EAC and how they assess its performance in reaching out to them.

The study would seek to review how key messages get across visually and how EAC was perceived by the EA citizens and what’s the way forward.

The project’s objective is to find out if EAC’s corporate identity and its corporate images were consistent with the aspirations of the East Africans and met the lofty goals of the Treaty.

That is to say whether the perception of the external target audience is coherent with what EAC perceives itself and the strategic platform (Vision, Mission, Strategic Goals and Core Values) of the Community.

Two core teams have been set out to facilitate the physical interviewing process. One team has headed to Uganda ( survey points: Kampala, Lira, Fort Portal and Busia border); Kenya ( survey points Nairobi, Mombasa and Eldoret) and; Tanzania ( survey points Dodoma, Mwanza, Sirari border and Zanzibar) whilst the other will cover Burundi ( survey points :Makamba, Muyinga and Cibitoke) and; Rwanda ( survey points Musanza and Nyagatere).

The interviewing team includes volunteers such as journalists who have been trained by EAC and GIZ on the regional integration process, some EAC Youth Ambassadors,best debaters, students and delegated officials from the Partner States’ Ministries of EAC.

The baseline survey has been facilitated by the German Development Agency (GIZ).

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Lambaréné Declaration and Gabonese Albert Schweitzer Award

By Esther Nakkazi

Over 350 participants gathered in Libreville and in Lambaréné for two days, 6-7 July, to map out a concrete roadmap to efficiently tackle the Triple Epidemic - HIV, Malaria, and Tuberculosis.

The dignitaries including Nobel Prize laureates, Albert Schweitzer’s descendants, experts in science and medicine as well as in social sciences, NGO, private sector players and representatives of the civil society also celebrated Albert Schweitzer and his work.

The Albert Schweitzer Hospital, which he created, had its Centennial Celebration. Schweitzer’s philosophy was based on the ‘Reverence of life’.

Ali Bongo Ondimba, the President of the Gabonese Republic described Albert Schweitzer as part of the Gabonese history and said they were determined to pursue this work further.

He also emphasized on the necessity for increased usage of technologies to enhance efficiency in patient care and reaffirmed his will to make Gabon a regional hub dedicated to mother and child healthcare.

The Lambaréné Declaration was also created, which commits to the creation of the “Lambaréné declaration” coordination and follow-up structure, under the authority of a multinational and trans-disciplinary experts counsel.

The participants at the symposium also committed to the creation of three permanent Task Forces on trans-disciplinary solutions research; training programs for healthcare and field professionals; and research support in Africa.

As well as the creation of a new ongoing training network, reinforcement of African and International Research and the launch of a digital platform, to enable communication between all parties and to offer visibility to all initiatives conducted.

Participants went to visit the Lambaréné site where the Albert Schweitzer Hospital, created by the Nobel Prize Laureate at the beginning of the 20th Century, is still operating. It is now one of the leading regional centers (research, patient care, prevention, child birth and maternity).

Ali Bongo also announced the creation of the International Albert Schweitzer Award, to commemorate the Doctor, reminding that “if Schweitzer had Gabon at the heart of his history, Gabon holds Schweitzer close to its heart”.

Granted with US$ 250.000, it will reward the work of an individual or a team, able to support a sustainable cross-disciplinary approach to fight against the Triple Epidemic, in Africa.

Science and Technology get overwhelming funds in Uganda 2013/14

By Esther Nakkazi

Science, Technology and Innovations together with ICT (Information Communication Technology), overall, received a big share of the 2013/14 budget. Although the total amounts cannot be specified because most of it is in particular sector funding, the budget has commitment to fund STI.

“In the next year, Government will continue to support Scientific and Technological innovation to drive value addition, increase our competitiveness in the global market and create employment among other benefits,” said Maria Kiwanuka, the minister of Finance while reading the budget speech on 13th June at Serena Hotel, Kampala.

At the Budget reading, Kiwanuka also announced setting up Information Technology Parks to host Business Process Outsourcing (BPOs) that helped create jobs in the last financial year ending this June. It will also set up ICT service companies and fully serviced Industrial and Information Technology (IT) parks in various regions of the country over the medium term.

Kiwanuka also promised students loans for science students who are privately-sponsored at University and Tertiary institutions to further equip them with skills and grow the numbers of science students and eventually scientists.  Last year, increment of salaries of doctors were announced further showing government commitment to improve science and keep scientists at home but most of them have expressed disappointment that this has not been implemented. This year, science teachers will get more money.

Science, Technology and Innovations are among Uganda’s priorities, spelt out in the five-year National Development Plan (NDP) with the theme: Growth, Employment and Socio-economic Transformation for Prosperity” 2010/11 – 2014/15.

Now, experts say that prioritising science is a good plan for Uganda’s development.

“It puts us at ease that the key priorities of this year’s budget match those of the National Development Plan. Investing in science is the right path to development,” said Dr. John Ssekamatte-Ssebuliba, the head of social sector planning at National Planning Authority (NPA).

Other priority areas that got big funds from the budget include infrastructure, energy, security, public administration which got the bulk of the budget funds. Although, there were murmurs on why so much was allocated to security, but President Yoweri Museveni has emphasized many times that national security is a key priority for Uganda.

Another disappointment was agriculture, which employs 70 percent of the Uganda population it only received 13% of the total budget.

“There is no clear strategy in developing agriculture,” said Everest Kayondo, Chairman Kampala City Traders Association (KACITA). He said although Agro-processing is what can be funded more to compete with Uganda’s neighbors, the agriculture sector got only 13% funding of the budget. 

“You are providing security for people who are dying. Should we buy guns or medicine? What should we invest in more –provide security for people who are dying?” asked John Mutenyu a senior economist at the school of Economics, Makerere University.

The total resource envelope for Uganda in the next financial year,  are projected to amount to Shs 13,169bn but 81.1% will be financed from Domestic sources to the tune of Shs 10,509bn and the rest by the donor community.

“When over 80% of the budget is funded by Ugandans, we shall have better accountability and Ugandans will want to see Ugandan money at work. There will be more vigilance in people demanding for accountability,” said Dr. Fred Matovu, a senior economist at Makerere University.

“This gives us freedom to align expenditures to our priorities. People in government were more accountable to donors before now they will answer to local tax payers,” said Matovu.

But the Minister also announced an increase in excise duty of kerosene by 200 shillings per litre to discourage the practice of adulterating diesel by mixing it with kerosene. This measure is expected to raise about Shs. 15 billion.

“The increased taxes on Kerosene will increase maternal mortality because some health centers in rural areas use kerosene to deliver babies. Mothers have to go with their own Kerosene to give birth,” said Dr. Edward Babale an economist from the College of Business and Management Sciences, Makerere University, Uganda.

“Many diseases are from contaminated water but they are pushing people away from clean water. The biggest problem with domestic water supply is the wastages and water are losses,” said Bbaale while commenting about the increase in domestic water taxes.

The Financial Year 2013/14 Budget, like the one last year, focuses on translating the Government’s strategic priorities into practice over the next twelve months. “The Journey Continues: Towards Socio-Economic Transformation for Uganda”.