Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Zika re-enters Africa as encroachers take over its forest habitat in Uganda

By Esther Nakkazi

The Zika virus has re-surfaced in Africa through Angola. As we all know, Zika was first discovered in Uganda in 1947.

Unfortunately, as it resurfaces in Africa, the Zika forest where it was first identified in Africa is just a few decimals, most of it destroyed by encroachers who feel high rise buildings are much more important than a habitat for mosquitoes species and wildlife.

According to Angolan health officials the country's first two cases of the Zika virus, a French tourist and a resident in the capital Luanda, says AFP.

Since 2015, when the outbreak started more than 1.5 million people have been infected with Zika, mainly in Brazil, and more than 1,600 babies have been born with microcephaly, according to the World Health Organisation.

But in Uganda, the Zika virus, which takes its name from ‘Ziika' - the name has always been misspelt - a forest on the shores of one of Africa’s biggest fresh water lakes, Lake Victoria, where researchers caught the mosquito, isolated the disease and have since kept surveillance, the forest is almost gone.

We can say the researchers at the Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI) did a good job and continue to do so. They continue to do research, experiments and monitor the mosquito species in the Zika forest and the whole country.

Continuous monitoring and surveillance means Uganda, which is a biodiversity hotspot with some of the world's most virulent pathogenesis on top of its game of controlling diseases.  

Only to be let down by environmentalists who are oblivious of its importance and thus do not advocate for its conservation and the Wakiso land board who continue to sell part of the zika forest land to big shots with no care at all.

UVRI as a research entity was given a piece of the forest (30 acres) for research but from it 10 acres has been allocated to ‘developers’ by the Wakiso Land board, which of course is under the larger Uganda Ministry of Lands, Housing and Urban development.

The researchers efforts to keep the land for its rightful use has fallen on deaf ears.

Recently, Madame Stephanie Rivoal, the French Ambassador to Uganda visited the Ziika forest and almost cried. She thought Ugandans have not heard of the term ‘conservation’ as she saw hundreds of cut trees, numerous construction sites and encroachers.

By the end of her walk thorough the forest reserve accompanied by Erik Orsenna, -also the ambassador of the Pasteur Research Institute in France-a politician, novelist and Nobel Peace Prize contender their energy and enthusiasm was deflated by the depletion.

The Zika forest still houses wildlife especially monkeys and a number of mosquito species like the Aedes Aegypti and Africanus in the forest.

Dr. Julius Lutwama, who heads emerging and re-emerging infections at UVRI warned that if this wildlife habitat is destroyed the mosquitoes could also have capacity to mutate and adapt. What would we expect anyway if there usual prey is eliminated?