Friday, November 29, 2019

PrEP Uganda App launched for HIV prevention and management

By Esther Nakkazi

A user-friendly app used to access information about HIV prevention and a daily pill that can prevent HIV has been developed. The Pre Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) app called 'PrEP Uganda' assessed on smartphones was initiated by Charles Brown the executive director Preventive Care International (PCI).

PrEP is a daily pill taken by someone who is HIV negative (Uninfected) before they are exposed to HIV. The PrEP Uganda app will be used for adherence and retention and it has a feature that allows the user to get all information about PrEP including - the nearest sites offering PrEP within that location.

It is also mainly targeted for people who are stigmatized, key populations and meant to empower young people to champion the end of new HIV infections through the PrEP Uganda mobile app.

"For any medication to be effective, the person taking it must adhere well. This mobile app enables a person taking PrEP to set reminders for daily swallowing of the pill. A person can also set a reminder to pick drug refills," Brown told journalists attending a media science cafe organized by the Health Journalists Network in Uganda (HEJNU) held on 26th November.

The mobile app that can be assessed for free through the google app store (play store) for all Android users has an interactive session that allows the user to ask questions about PrEP and HIV prevention and get answers from an expert. The version for IOS (iPhone) users is being developed.

Uganda has made great progress towards ending HIV and achieving the 95,95,95 targets but infections among key and priority populations are still high averaging 2 to 4 times the national prevalence.

As high as 570 new infections per week happen among adolescent girls and young women (AGYW) in Uganda. Prompted by the findings from the studies and WHO recommendations, Uganda
adopted PrEP as an additional strategy for HIV prevention.

Roll out of PrEP started in July 2017 and to date over ninety (90) facilities are implementing PrEP across the country. Over 16,000 individuals at substantial risk of acquiring HIV have been enrolled on PrEP including discordant couples, Sex workers, Men who have Sex with Men (MSM) and People who use drugs (PWUD), Transgender, Fisherfolks, adolescent girls and young women (AGYW) among others.

Despite reaching several clients with PrEP, the program has experienced a number of challenges including myths and misconceptions, the stigma associated with the use of ARVs among others. These can be addressed through user-friendly technologies like mobile Apps that someone can use to access information.

"As we celebrate World Aids day, we need to make all options for HIV prevention available to everyone to choose what is preferred. We need to create safe spaces for adolescent girls and young women to freely access HIV prevention and reproductive health services. We need to involve AGYW, Key and Priority populations in planning and delivery of services," said Brown.

"Together with duty bearers we need to focus on eliminating all forms of stigma towards people living with HIV and support them to adhere and achieve viral load suppression. Science has proven that when people living with HIV achieve viral load suppression to an undetectable level they can not pass on the virus to other people (Undetectable = Untransmittable). A combination of these interventions while not living anyone behind will enable us to achieve epidemic control," Brown told HEJNU journalists.

In Uganda, an estimated 1.3 million people are living with HIV and 52,000 people become newly infected with the virus annually. According to the National HIV and AIDS Strategic Plan (NSP), 2015/16 – 2019/20, the prevalence of HIV has a geographical heterogeneity with urban residents being more affected. The prevalence of HIV differs among the different subcategories with key and priority populations being affected more than the general population.

Friday, November 22, 2019

Invest in Vaccine Preventable Diseases Surveillance or endure $22.4 billion economic burden - WHO warns Africa

By Esther Nakkazi

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has launched an Investment Case for Vaccine-Preventable Diseases Surveillance in the African Region 2020-2030.

It encourages countries to invest in disease surveillance efforts – including a US$22.4 billion economic burden over the next decade and sets forth an ambitious vision for Vaccine-preventable disease (VPD) surveillance in the African region by 2030.

The announcement was made at the high-level “Reaching the Last Mile Forum” in Abu Dhabi on 19 November, by Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. She called on governments to invest in strong disease surveillance systems that will ensure early detection and response to risks and outbreaks.

“Strong surveillance is the backbone of a functioning health information system, empowering health workers with timely, quality evidence to inform decision-making. To curb the spread of life-threatening diseases, governments must invest in strong and functioning surveillance systems,” said Dr. Moeti. 

With the African Region on the brink of polio eradication, VPD surveillance remains an issue yet to be prioritized by many health leaders. The burden of VPDs and associated outbreaks remain a major threat to people across Africa.

“Despite extraordinary progress boosting vaccine coverage around the world in the past two decades, one and a half million people are still dying from vaccine-preventable diseases every year,” said Dr. Seth Berkley, CEO of Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.

The Investment Case further indicates that if current disease surveillance efforts are not maintained, there is a risk to reverse progress made, leading to more than 900,000 deaths. 

 More investment in surveillance: 

The WHO Investment Case outlines the need for increased domestic investment for surveillance activities under the overall umbrella of integrated disease surveillance and response, from countries in the African Region as well as mobilization of international resources, in order to ensure strong disease surveillance. 

At least $470 million in operating costs will be needed over the next decade to reach this ambition. WHO predicts that the investment would save over 700,000 lives, prevent 20 million people from falling ill due to vaccine-preventable diseases, and save US$21 billion over 10 years – estimated to be a 44.6-fold return on investment.

It is notable that resources for VPD surveillance have declined markedly over the past two years – and domestic surveillance expenditure in the African Region remains low. 

“The fact that most countries in the African Region continue to rely on external funding for VPD surveillance is a strong indicator of the work that remains to be done,” said Dr. Richard Mihigo, Programme Manager for Immunization and Vaccine Development at the WHO Regional Office for Africa. “Governments have a central role to play to fill upcoming funding gaps and ensure immunization programs and surveillance remain strong and vigilant.”

A private sector firm has already pledged $5 million over the next five years, beginning in 2020, to support and strengthen VPD surveillance efforts in the African Region. 

“We hope that this first pledge in support of the VPD surveillance investment case will be catalytic, and will encourage other traditional and non-traditional donors to consider this critical area of work, including how the private sector and governments can work closely together to ensure we successfully bridge funding gaps,” said Elizabeth Ivanovich, Director of Global Health at the UN Foundation.

Dr. Rebecca Martin, Director of the Center for Global Health, CDC, issued a statement of support, adding: "CDC is strongly committed to global health security, helping to strengthen health systems that can prevent avoidable epidemics, detect threats early, and respond rapidly to outbreaks."

At the African Union Summit held in Addis Ababa in January 2017, African Heads of State endorsed the Addis Declaration on Immunization (ADI), pledged increased political and financial investments in their immunization programs. 

Commitment 5 of the ADI outlines the need for “attaining and maintaining high-quality surveillance for targeted vaccine-preventable diseases.” Although the Member States have endorsed these commitments and pledged to deliver on universal immunization coverage and high-quality surveillance, challenges remain in achieving immunization and surveillance targets.

Still at the African Union Summit held in Addis Ababa, African Heads of State endorsed the Addis Declaration on Immunization (ADI), pledging to ensure that everyone in Africa – regardless of who they are or where they live – receives the full benefits of immunization.

“Our biggest challenge in reducing the horrific toll these diseases still cause is finding the children who are still missing out on vaccines. That’s why improved vaccine-preventable disease surveillance systems are so important, helping health authorities to identify the areas where immunization coverage is weakest and protect those children who are currently being left behind,” said Dr. Berkley.

Vaccine-preventable disease surveillance is a critical component of the integrated disease control strategies and an effective way to detect and respond early to outbreaks – mitigating their impact on national security, the local economy and public health systems. Yet countries in the African Region still face major challenges in both the strategic planning and operation of their surveillance systems.
“VPD surveillance is not only a valuable investment that will help countries reach immunization targets,” said Dr. Moeti, “it is a critical component of broader goals such as Universal Health Coverage and the Sustainable Development Goals, and is absolutely essential to protecting all of our health security.”

Monday, November 11, 2019

Ethiopia adopts open access policy

By Esther Nakkazi

Ethiopia has adopted a national policy that mandates all universities and research institutes that receive public funding to make open access. This is expected to transform research and education in Ethiopia’s higher institutions of learning.

Open access builds a knowledge community and allows researchers and research institutions that cannot afford subscription fees to access scientific journals.

The Ministry of Science and Higher Education of Ethiopia (MOSHE) adopted the new national open access policy in September this year and it came into effect immediately.

“Our universities and libraries will have to adapt quickly to comply with the new policy. Each university will have to develop an open access policy to suit its own institutional context, and which is also aligned with the national policy,” blogged Dr. Solomon Mekonnen Tekle, a librarian at Addis Ababa University Library, and EIFL Open Access Coordinator in Ethiopia.

Ethiopia an Electronic Information for Libraries (EIFL) partner country also will benefit from the new agreement ( signed 28 October 2019) signed between EIFL with the academic publisher De Gruyter valid until December 2021, which covers open access publishing and free and discounted access to its (De Gruyter) ’s content.

De Gruyter offers authors from EIFL partner countries the option of publishing their articles in open access for free or at discounted Article Processing Charges (APCs) in its over 440 fully open access and hybrid journals.

Other EIFL countries include Cambodia, Congo, Ethiopia, Georgia, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Kosovo, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Lesotho, Malawi, Maldives, Moldova, Myanmar, Nepal, North Macedonia, Palestine, Senegal, Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, Ukraine, Uzbekistan, Zambia, Zimbabwe.

Ethiopia’s new national open access policy requires that all published articles, theses, dissertations and data from research conducted by staff and students at the 47 universities that are publicly funded through the MOSHE be open access.

Dr. Tekle says the new open access policy will improve the quality of researchers' work as they will easily critique each other work and it will increase the visibility of Ethiopian research, within the national and international research communities - creating equity, minimizing duplication, thereby saving costs, time and effort.

“There is a strong capacity-building component to the project to train repository managers and administrators to manage their new institutional repositories and open access journals,” said Dr. Tekle.

The policy encourages open science practices including ‘openness’ as one of the criteria for assessment and evaluation of research proposals as such researchers who receive public funding must submit their data management plans to research offices and to university libraries for approval and confirm that the data will be handled according to international FAIR data principles. (FAIR data are data that meet standards of Findability, Accessibility, Interoperability, and Reusability.)

However, two months after it came into effect only three universities - Hawassa, Jimma and Arba Minch universities of the 47 universities under MOSHE have adopted the open access policy but more will comply.

Tekle says at some point the academic community was opposed to open access fearing plagiarism. However, now, ‘researchers and students come to my office in the library and ask for their research to be published in open access so that others, like potential employers, for example, can find and read it’.

However, even if Ethiopia universities have made this move there are concerns over Appointments and Promotions Committees in African universities discriminating against Open Access journal articles which are also perceived and rated lower and given fewer scores.

To date, 46 higher education institutions have signed onto the Berlin Declaration on Open Access to Knowledge in the Sciences and Humanities which came into effect in 2003 and is regarded as the milestone of open access movement.

The first African higher education institutions to sign onto it was Stellenbosch University in 2010 but more than 400 institutions worldwide have signed it. It was initiated by the Max Planck Society of Germany, promotes unrestricted access to scientific knowledge and cultural heritage.

A study done in all eight Tanzanian health sciences universities that investigated the faculty's awareness, attitudes and use of open access, and the role of information professionals in supporting open access scholarly communication found that most faculty members were aware of OA issues but did not necessarily translate into actual dissemination of faculty's research outputs through OA web avenues.

The study published in 2013 and entitled ‘Open access behaviours and perceptions of health sciences faculty and roles of information professionals’ found that senior faculty with proficient technical skills were more likely to use open access than junior faculty and the major barriers to OA usage were related to ICT infrastructure, awareness, skills, author-pay model, and copyright and plagiarism concerns.

The study leads author Dr. Edda Tandi Lwoga the directorate of Library Services, Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Health Sciences said most academics used open access venues for accessing scientific works that are freely available on the web more than publishing their own research outputs.

Dr. Williams Nwagwu teaches Informetrics and other quantitative applications in Information Science at the Africa Regional Centre for Information Science (ARCIS), University of Ibadan, Nigeria said university administrators may want to increase the status and visibility of their universities through increase of senior scholars, most of whom achieve this status publishing in low-status open access journals.

Dr. Nwagwu says Africa should not look at the number of journals doing open access or quantity of papers available to address open access - which encompasses many other issues, apart from numbers.

“I acknowledge existing efforts, but there is a need for leadership, consensus building, policymaker engagement etc,” he says.

About the perceived link between 'low status' and open access, Neil Pakenham-Walsh the coordinator Healthcare Information For all (HIFA) Project said this can only be said for predatory journals, but the latter can be regarded an aberration and unrepresentative.

Pakenham-Walsh explained that it is fairly straightforward to identify high-quality open-access journals, and there is no logical reason why they should be trusted any less than subscription-based journals because editorial quality does not depend on whether a journal is restricted-access or open-access.

He argued that if academic institutions have the vision of creating and disseminating knowledge, and if the quality of content is not dependent on restricted versus open, then one might expect academic institutions to actively support open access journals rather than discriminate against them.


Monday, November 4, 2019

Alarming record breaking temperatures observed over four months globally

By Esther Nakkazi

The Global average temperatures for September 2019 was about 0.57°C degrees above average and
at par with September 2016, making it the fourth month in a row to be close to or breaking a temperature record according to the Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S), a European Commission’s flagship Earth observation program.

The difference in the average temperatures for September 2019 and September 2016 is very small, according to the C3S data, only 0.02°C. It is smaller than the typical difference between the values provided by the global temperature datasets of various institutions, both months share the top spot together.

"September 2019 being on-par with record temperatures now acts as a reminder of the long-term warming trend that can be observed on a global level. With continued greenhouse gas emissions and the resulting impact on global temperatures, records will continue to be broken in the future,” said Jean-Noël Thépaut, Director of Copernicus ECMWF.

This is close to 1.2°C above the pre-industrial level as defined by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and about as warm as September 2016 (0.02°C warmer), the previous warmest September in this data record, he said.

June 2019, was the warmest on record and July the warmest month ever recorded while August 2019 settling for the second warmest August in a thirty-year climatological reference period of 1981-2010.

Regions with most markedly above-average temperatures include central and eastern USA, the Mongolian plateau and parts of the Arctic. In Europe, temperatures were above average over most of the continent, especially in the south and south-east.

The Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) is implemented by the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) on behalf of the European Union. ECMWF also implements the Copernicus Atmosphere Monitoring Service (CAMS). ECMWF is an independent intergovernmental organization, producing and disseminating numerical weather predictions to its 34 Member and the Co-operating States.

The Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S), Monthly Climate Summaries from the Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S) routinely publishes monthly climate bulletins reporting on the changes observed on the global surface air temperature, sea ice, and hydrological variables. All the reported findings are based on computer-generated analyses using billions of measurements from satellites, ships, aircraft and weather stations around the world.

More information about climate variables in September and climate updates of previous months as well as high-resolution graphics can be downloaded here:

Surface air temperature anomaly for September 2019 relative to the September average for the period 1981-2010. Data source: ERA5. Credit: ECMWF-Copernicus Climate Change Service (C3S)