Aboriginal Community
In a remote area in north-west Queensland Australia, there have been reported deaths of members of the Aboriginal community. An illness known as rheumatic heart disease (RHD) is claiming the lives of those living in this small population. RHD is an entirely preventable disease that rarely exists among Australians.

Who Contracts the Disease?

Rheumatic heart disease develops as a fever called rheumatic fever that worsens over time. Statistically, young children are most at risk of contracting the disease. Aboriginal cultural consultant Janelle Speed addressed the prevalence of the disease among aboriginals in the Australian Journal of General Practice: “Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Australia have the world’s highest rates of acute rheumatic fever [ARF]/RHD.”

Symptoms of RHD

An untreated strep throat infection can lead to acute rheumatic fever and can cause irreparable damage to the major cardiac valves causing rheumatic heart disease. Of the more than 5,000 people living with RHD in Australia, 71% are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Without the proper diagnoses and treatment, 8,667 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people could develop ARF/RHD by 2031. This could lead to 1,370 severe cases of RHD and 663 to die.

Curing Rheumatic Heart Disease

The Federal Government hopes to eliminate RHD by 2030, however, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare figures show the disease continues to increase in prevalence. People with RHD normally require ongoing medical care, antibiotic treatment and possibly cardiac surgery. By 2031, it will cost an estimated $273.4 million in medical care to treat the disease.

RHD Research

The End Rheumatic Heart Disease Centre of Research Excellence began its journey in 2014 to provide a robust plan to eradicate RHD in Australia.

Recently, The Queensland Health Minister, Yvette D’Ath, allocated $7.3 million to further research and planning for RHD. Former Federal Health Minister, Greg Hunt, issued a statement claiming, “Working in genuine partnership through shared decision-making and co-design with the Aboriginal community-controlled sector is critical and is the foundation of the new approach to the Government’s Rheumatic Fever Strategy commencing this year [2021–22].”

Hunt also said that the country will spend $25 million on supporting strategies to prevent RHD including an additional $12 million for activities aimed at preventing RHD throughout the country. Moreover, the University of Western Australia is working to develop a Strep A vaccine that will hopefully “accelerate the elimination of RHD.”

Solutions

In order to prevent the progression of ARF into RHD, it is necessary to improve the early and accurate diagnosis of ARF and the delivery of secondary prophylaxis.

The collective experience of clinicians, Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organizations, government and non-government organizations, and research, means the knowledge now exists to permanently eliminate rheumatic heart disease in Australia.

– Kiara Finch
Photo: Picryl

Monkeypox Outbreak in Africa
As monkeypox cases continue to come on the radar in the U.S. and Europe, wealthier countries are rolling out vaccines and medications to address the issue, bringing to light the inequities Africa faces in response to the monkeypox outbreak in Africa.

What is Monkeypox?

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), monkeypox is a zoonotic disease (transmitted to humans from animals) with symptoms that closely resemble the indications of smallpox, although less severe. The name of the disease, monkeypox, arose “from the initial discovery of the virus in monkeys in a Danish laboratory in 1958.” The first case of monkeypox among humans occurred in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in 1970.

Symptoms begin with “fevers, chills, sweats, fatigue and enlarged, tender lymph nodes in the neck and groin.” The next phase involves “a multi-stage rash” that eventually develops into prominent pustules, mostly on an individual’s face, palms and soles of the feet. The disease is generally mild, however, serious illness and mortality can occur.

According to the WHO, the monkeypox virus transmits “from one person to another by close contact with lesions, body fluids, respiratory droplets and contaminated materials such as bedding.”

Monkeypox Outbreaks

Monkeypox endemic countries fall within Central and West Africa. The first known group of infections to occur outside of Africa happened in 2003 in the United States. The outbreak began as a result of “imported Gambian rats” transferring the virus to prairie dogs. Humans then acquired these dogs as pets, resulting in the infections of 87 children and adults. There were no fatalities but three children endured severe illness.

Before 2022, the United Kingdom, Israel, Singapore and the U.S. noted several isolated cases from travelers who had visited Nigeria. On May 7, 2022, the U.K. noted a case of monkeypox from a traveler returning from Nigeria. As of June 6, 2022, the U.K. and 29 other non-endemic countries have noted more than 550 cases of monkeypox.

Africa Sees Inequity in Monkeypox Response

Health care officials in developed regions have access to vaccines and medicine to steady the progression of the monkeypox outbreaks in these areas. This has brought to light the reality that monkeypox treatment has been available for a long time, yet Africa has struggled without resources to combat this virus for decades.

Africa notes “more than 1,400 monkeypox cases and 63 deaths in four countries where the disease is endemic — Cameroon, Central African Republic, Congo and Nigeria.” As wealthier countries roll out vaccines and antivirals, Dr. Adesola Yinka-Ogunleye, leader of Nigeria’s monkeypox working group, said that “there are currently no vaccines or antivirals being used against monkeypox in [Nigeria].” People with potential monkeypox infections enter isolation and authorities monitor their contacts.

Dr. Jimmy Whitworth, a professor of global public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, acknowledged this inequity, noting “a different attitude to the kinds of resources we deploy depending on where cases are.” He said further that “It exposes a moral failing when those interventions aren’t available for the millions of people in Africa who need them.” The World Health Organization has about 31 million smallpox vaccines that could treat monkeypox, however, it has never dispensed these vaccines to address the monkeypox outbreak in Africa.

Jay Chudi, an expert living in Enugu, Nigeria, an area noting monkeypox cases since 2017, says cases in wealthier countries prompted the world to confront the spread of monkeypox. “We are now seeing it can end once and for all, but because it is no longer just in Africa. Now everybody is worried,” Chudi said.

JYNNEOS Smallpox (Monkeypox) Vaccine

In 2019, the FDA approved a two-dose vaccine called JYNNEOS to prevent both smallpox and monkeypox in adults. As of June 8, 2022, this vaccine is available in the United Kingdom, United States, Europe, Denmark, Germany, France, Spain, Canada and Nigeria.

Despite the availability of vaccines, many African countries continue to endure the hardships of the monkeypox epidemic. With the availability of the  JYNNEOS vaccine in Nigeria, Africa now has newfound hope.

– Jacara Watkins
Photo: Flickr

COVID-19 in Tanzania
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused economies to slow, governments to scramble to respond and confined people to their homes. However, many countries have found ways to adjust to the limitations the illness brought on. New Zealand, South Korea and Australia are three countries that have successfully limited the spread of the virus. As a result, the nations were able to reopen and keep their people safe. On the other hand, Tanzania is one country that is struggling to contain the virus within its borders. As a result, there is no end in sight for COVID-19 in Tanzania.

Epidemics in Africa

Deadly diseases frequently spread throughout Africa. For example, the consistent recurrences and escalation of Ebola ravaged Africa from 2014 to 2016. Moreover, the Democratic Republic of the Congo has experienced the spread of diseases on and off since the 1970s. Furthermore, Africa had 229 million cases of illnesses and diseases in 2019. Of these cases, about 94% of them were malaria cases and deaths.

Excluding Antarctica, Africa has the second-lowest transmission rate. As a result, COVID-19 has not affected many African countries as much as other nations. Many African nations took appropriate measures and provided vaccines effectively. Recently, Africa engaged in many preventative measures to prevent the spread of disease. Furthermore, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Alliance for International Medical Action (ALIMA) constructed treatment centers throughout Africa. In addition, protective equipment such as PPE and CUBE units have emerged.

COVID-19 in Tanzania

However, the implementation of such measures has not occurred regarding COVID-19 in Tanzania. Tanzania has the highest number of COVID-19 cases in the African continent. Furthermore, the government was hesitant to release the data for transmission and death rates within the nation. As a result, it was difficult to identify weak points in Tanzania’s response to the crisis. In addition, it is challenging for Tanzanians to be aware of specific risks of the virus.

However, Tanzania is making steady progress to combat COVID-19. The government has implemented strict measures to deter the spread of COVID-19. Furthermore, a greater sense of political accountability and acknowledgment of the virus exists compared to a few months ago. Additionally, the government has placed restrictions on super spreading events in Tanzania such as weddings and funerals. The CDC has also made efforts to bring in a surplus of protective equipment to help safely solve this crisis.

Tanzania has struggled greatly amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. However, administrative efforts to acknowledge and react to the virus have successfully slowed the spread of COVID-19. There is hope for solving this crisis with support from the CDC and self-governmental acknowledgment.

– Jacob Hurwitz
Photo: Flickr

HIV/AIDS in The Dominican Republic
HIV/AIDS in the Dominican Republic is on the agenda of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) and HIV/AIDS has been the focus of the Plan of Action for the Prevention and Control of HIV and Sexually Transmitted Infections 2016-2021. The goal of the plan is to end HIV/AIDS in many regions of the Americas, including the Dominican Republic, by 2030.

From 2010 to 2019, HIV cases have reduced to 13 a year and the number of deaths has gone down by 4,000 over the years. Female sex workers are a portion of the population the epidemic affects; they accounted for 37% of new infections in 2019. Less than 30% of individuals do not know they have an infection and about one-third receive a late diagnosis. Over 200,000 were getting antiretroviral treatment in 2019.

HIV Diagnosis Decline

HIV/AIDS in the Dominican Republic has seen an advancement in health through more testing and the option of antiretroviral treatments. The options of PrEP, pre-exposure prophylaxis, and PEP, post-exposure prophylaxis, have contributed to the decline of infections. The COVID-19 pandemic has put a dent in the success of the decline of HIV/AIDS.

The pandemic is changing the social landscape and interaction of people through social distancing measures. Access to medical personnel has also experienced strain because of rising and new COVID-19 infections. When comparing 2019 to the current pandemic, the diagnosis of HIV has reduced by the thousands in the Dominican Republic. According to PAHO, “Self-testing is a key strategy for reaching the U.N. goal of having 90% of people with HIV know their status.”

PrEP and PEP

PrEP and PEP are two types of antiretroviral treatments that people can use to prevent HIV transmission. Individuals can take the antiretroviral treatment PrEP before HIV infection and it is available through two brands. Meanwhile, one can take PEP after an HIV infection and must take more than one medication. The CDC suggests that individuals consult with a doctor for more information. While both treatments are important, PEP offers more because sexual assault victims can use PEP or those who had a workplace accident. Advisories state that one should take PEP within three days of a dire situation and complete treatment within a month. Both treatments are highly effective with PrEP reducing HIV transmission from sex by 90% and PEP reducing risk by 80%.

HIV Self-Testing Market

The HIV self-testing market looks promising on a global scale especially with  HIV/AIDS in the Dominican Republic. Globally, there is a necessity and high demand for rapid diagnosis of HIV in many regions including Latin America. Self-testing is a better alternative because one can do it privately and it is less risky because it will prevent exposure to the COVID-19 pandemic. The self-testing market will grow more between 2020 and 2025. Self-testing will experience a great impact through government investments in healthcare worldwide. The HIV self-testing kit collects samples through blood, saliva and urine. In HIV testing, blood samples provide the most accurate read. According to MarketWatch, “The self-testing market in Latin America is anticipated to reach a value of 51.24 million USD in the year 2025.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly impacted the fight against HIV/AIDS in the Dominican Republic. However, despite HIV/AIDS’ prevalence, antiretroviral treatments and opportunities to self-test should result in improvements.

– Amanda Ortiz
Photo: Flickr

5 Rheumatic Diseases and Disorders Diagnosed in South AfricaFor the past few years, rheumatology has improved in South Africa, populated with more than 1.2 billion people. However, there is still a lack of resources needed for appropriate education, testing and diagnosis to improve rheumatology patients’ quality of health care. This piece will explain five rheumatic diseases and disorders that have been regularly diagnosed in South Africa. The difference between a disease and a disorder is that a disorder disrupts regular bodily activity and functions while the disease has specific symptoms and causes. Despite the number of rheumatic care providers, rheumatic diseases and disorders continue to be diagnosed in South Africa.

5 Rheumatic Diseases and Disorders in South Africa

  1. Sjogren’s Syndrome: Sjogren’s Syndrome is a rare and often forgotten autoimmune rheumatic disorder. It is an autoimmune disorder that affects one’s salivary glands. An autoimmune disease is a disease where the body’s immune system attacks its healthy functioning cells. The main symptoms of Sjogren’s Syndrome are dry eyes and mouth. In general, women are more likely to present symptoms, although males can be diagnosed with the syndrome. The disorder is typically diagnosed in those who are older than 40. Treatment and medical advice for Sjogren’s Syndrome can be found in South Africa. There are practices like Dr. Ajesh Maharaj’s Rheumatology; however, treatment is based on the service required in terms of the patient’s length of service and condition, which may or may not increase the amount of money that will be charged for their use.
  2. Rheumatoid Arthritis: There are six forms of arthritis, and roughly 50% of people can be living with it and have no idea. From the six forms of arthritis, rheumatoid arthritis is most common. Rheumatoid arthritis is a progressive disease, commonly known for affecting the body’s joints and causing inflammation. Rheumatoid Arthritis can be diagnosed at any age and include symptoms such as weight loss, fever, pain in joints, fatigue, and weakness. The percentage of people with rheumatoid arthritis is 2.5% in South Africa’s urban settings and 0.07% in its rural settings.
  3. Scleroderma: Scleroderma affects women three to four times more than men. The disease is diagnosed between the ages of 25 and 50, and it makes the skin and tissues harden. Scleroderma is treated in South Africa in different hospitals such as Life Healthy Care Hospital Group, Nelson Mandela Academic Hospital and Life Kingsbury Hospital.
  4. Lupus: Lupus is an autoimmune disease that currently has no cure. Women are more likely to be diagnosed with Lupus than men. Like many other rheumatic diseases and disorders, Lupus goes undiagnosed in South Africa because of the lack of awareness and resources people are given. When there is no education on a disease or disorder, it goes overlooked and frequently misdiagnosed.
  5.  Gout: Gout is a form of arthritis that is less common in African countries because it often goes underreported. Common symptoms of gout include severe pain, redness and tenderness in joints. Pain can occur randomly and can be helped with anti-inflammatory medications. Patients are usually recommended by a health professional to transition to a healthier lifestyle that includes exercise and a diet that includes more vegetables and water. Males are more likely to be diagnosed with gout than women. People who are at high risk may have a higher intake of alcohol or are obese.

Poverty and Accessing Treatment

Accessing medical care is difficult, especially for those who are suffering from extreme poverty. In 2015, 18.8% of South Africans were living in poverty. The poverty rate between 2011 and 2015 increased by 2%. Efficient healthcare prominently available in private hospitals in South Africa; however, there are also public hospitals that treat patients. Yet, public hospitals are reported to suffer from long waiting lines and a shortage of staff.

More than 57 million people live in South Africa. Still, the region reports having only 85 adult and pediatric rheumatologists that treat rheumatic diseases and disorders. According to disease specialists, there should be a rheumatologist specialist for every 180,000 people, making the lack of medical care for rheumatology in South Africa clear. The shortage of rheumatologists is addressed by organizations such as the South African Rheumatism and Arthritis Association.

Organizations Helping Aid South Africa’s Rheumatic Diseases and Disorders

The South African Rheumatism and Arthritis Association (SARAA) is an organization that consists of medical professionals who are knowledgeable in the rheumatology department. The nonprofit organization of medical professionals represents South Africa’s rheumatology and brings awareness to the rheumatology field. They encourage other medical professionals to become members and believe in promoting their IDEAL vision: inclusiveness, dynamic, excellence, advancement and action and leaders.

The African League Against Rheumatism (AFLAR) is an international organization that promotes rheumatology in Africa, rheumatology education and its practice in Africa. It was established in 1989 and continues to work on educating medical employees and African citizens about rheumatic diseases and disorders in Africa.

Rheumatic diseases, such as lupus, Sjogren’s syndrome, rheumatoid arthritis, gout and scleroderma, are diseases. or disorders that affect people worldwide, including South Africa. Suppose rheumatologists in South Africa are given support in bringing awareness to the different health conditions and given more medical resources. In that case, South Africa’s rheumatology department can progress, meaning earlier detection and more knowledge on diseases and disorders.

—Amanda Cruz
Photo: Flickr 

Kala Azar DiseaseKala Azar, the second-largest parasitic killer in the world after malaria, is quite deadly. Known as Kala Azar, Black Fever and visceral leishmaniasis, the disease kills 95% of its victims if left untreated. This “Poor Man’s Disease” can be very hypocritical. While this disease infects the poverty-stricken, the treatment is hard to come by, if not impossible. Even if the patient finds a doctor that can treat the disease, the price is astronomical. And sometimes, there is no stopping the contraction of the Black Fever.

The Spread

As the disease transmits through a sandfly bite, Kala Azar preys on the vulnerable. More than 1 billion people are at risk. East Africa, India and even some parts of the Middle East are endemic to Kala Azar. Poor housing conditions and lack of waste management in these countries cause an increase in the bloodthirsty sandflies’ breeding sites. This specific culprit is the female, Phlebotomine sand fly. While just one bite from it can put someone on bed rest for weeks, malnutrition only worsens the situation. For example, low vitamin D, iron and zinc can cause an infection to progress into disease much quicker. If Kala Azar killed the equivalent number of people in the U.S., it would be the third-largest killer, killing more citizens than those who die from strokes.

OneWorld Health

The real fighting began in 2003 with a collaboration between OneWorld Health, the WHO and a 4.2 million dollar grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. With this grant and WHO’s resources, OneWorld Health was able to start its final testing to find an affordable cure for Kala Azar and the disease it causes. They are reinventing an old medicine and turning it into the treatment now called paromomycin. “It’s not every day one can say an affordable cure for a deadly disease may be imminent and we believe our approach will be successful,” said Dr. Victoria Hale, founder and CEO of OneWorld Health. It is to be a 21-day treatment and it will be readily available in every Indian clinic and, hopefully, one day, everywhere.

Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDi)

Unfortunately, nothing came of the OneWorld Health drug, paromomycin until February 2019. The Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDi) is fighting to change that. In a press release on the DNDi website, they share that Wellcome, a U.K. based foundation aiming to improve health for everyone, committed 12.9 million dollars for the development of drugs for Kala Azar. They are essentially funding a program that will test pre-existing drugs (that never made it to the world) and choose one to put on the market. DNDi is hoping it to be an oral drug as the drugs taken to fight Kala Azar can be painful and “require patients to take toxic and poorly tolerated drugs — often over a long period and through painful injections,” as said by Dr. Bernard Pécoul, Executive Director of DNDi.

The Impact

There is an estimated 50,000 to 90,000 new cases each year. Most families of the infected do not even go to the doctor, knowing that they will not be able to pay for the treatment. While there are many organizations funding drugs to treat Kala Azar, the cure is not coming fast enough. The current treatment for this parasitic disease is not reasonable. How can a family that can barely provide for themselves spend thousands of dollars on treatment?

The prevention and an end to Kala Azar lie in our hands. Organizations need funding to take preventative measures like spraying for these deadly sand flies, monitoring the epidemics and educating the communities affected by the disease.

Bailey Sparks
Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Dengue Fever in Singapore Is on the RiseDengue fever is not an uncommon virus, The World Health Organization estimates that there are around 390 million cases of dengue fever annually. The majority of these cases were reported in Asia with only 30% of these cases occurring outside of the continent. In 2019, it is estimated that Asia had 273 million cases of dengue fever. Dengue fever in Singapore has been rising since 2018, however, there has been a sharp increase of reported cases throughout 2020.

Dengue fever is spread by female mosquitoes and is most prominent in tropical areas. The severity of dengue fever can differ largely. In mild cases of dengue fever, the infected person may experience severe flu-like symptoms such as joint pain, fever, vomiting and headaches. However, severe dengue fever is associated with internal bleeding, decreased organ function and the excretion of plasma. Severe dengue fever, if left untreated, has a mortality rate of up to 20%.

Dengue Fever in Singapore

Singapore has experienced many dengue fever epidemics. The most recent epidemic occurred in 2013. It was the largest outbreak in Singaporean history. However, in 2020, Singapore has exceeded the 22,170 dengue fever cases reported throughout the 2013 outbreak. As of July 2020, the number of dengue fever cases reported in Singapore was higher than 14,000. This exceeds the number of cases reported in July during the 2013 outbreak and is almost twice as many cases reported in July 2019.

The National Environment Agency of Singapore reports that the number of cases being reported continues to be on an upward trend, suggesting this may be the worst outbreak of dengue fever in Singapore’s history. Singapore has also reported that there are 610 active dengue fever clusters as of October 3, 2020. A dengue cluster is where there are two or more confirmed dengue fever cases reported in a localized area within 14 days. As of October 5, there were more than 30,800 cases of dengue fever in 2020.

Changes in Dengue Fever

The 2020 outbreak of dengue fever has been driven by the virus serotype DenV-3. There are four major serotypes of dengue fever with DenV-3 being one of the least common. The prevalence of the serotype DenV-3 increased from the beginning of 2019 where nearly 50% of cases were reported to be DenV-3. This means there is lower population immunity, causing higher rates of infection and an increased likelihood of severe dengue fever development.

The typical season for dengue fever in Singapore is from June to October. However, Singapore had a major rise in cases in mid-May 2020, increasing the season length by two to three weeks. The sudden rise in dengue fever in Singapore has been attributed to a decrease in preventative measures due to the lock-down caused by COVID-19. Singapore imposed a lockdown on April 7 to minimize the spread of COVID-19. As a result, more people have neglected taking preventative actions such as removing still bodies of water around their homes to decrease mosquito breeding.

How Singapore Can Stop the Spread

The spread of dengue fever in Singapore can be decreased by mobilizing the Singaporean population to take active measures in preventing mosquito breeding. Removing stagnant water from gardens and gutters will help remove the breeding ground for mosquitoes. Also loosening hard soil and spraying pesticides in dark corners of the home will stop mosquitoes from laying eggs in these areas. The Singaporean government is also urging people to use insect repellent throughout the peak dengue fever season to stop the infection.

The Singaporean government has highlighted that the dengue fever outbreak in Singapore is a major health concern that needs immediate attention. With two significant health concerns, COVID-19 and dengue fever outbreaks occurring simultaneously, preventative measures must be taken to ensure the healthcare system is not overrun. With compliance to the National Environment Agency’s guidelines, the Singaporean people will be able to reduce the number of dengue fever infections.

Laura Embry
Photo: Flickr

NASA SatellitesIn 1999, The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) scientists theorized that in the near future, they would be able to track disease outbreaks from space. They were mainly concerned with Rift Valley Fever. This is a disease prevalent in East Africa that is deadly to livestock and occasionally deadly in humans. NASA scientists already had surmised that outbreaks were directly related to El Niño weather events. Areas with more vegetation on abnormally precipitous years breed more disease-carrying mosquitoes. To see the exact areas that would be most at-risk, NASA satellites would need to be able to track differences in the color and density of vegetation from year to year.

Tracking Rift Valley Fever

In 2006, NASA scientists were able to predict and track an outbreak of Rift Valley Fever in East Africa. Even with intervention efforts, the outbreak led to the deaths of over 500 people and cost the regional economy over $60 million due to export restrictions and livestock deaths. Although the researchers could not adequately predict the outbreak then, the results of that mission gave them confidence that they could predict the next outbreak even better the next time El Niño conditions arose.

Ten years later, the NASA team successfully predicted the location of the next potential outbreak. They subsequently warned the Kenyan government before the disease could strike and gave them ample time to prepare. Thanks to the combined efforts of the Kenyan government and NASA satellites, Kenya saw no outbreak of Rift Valley Fever in 2016. The country protected the lives and livelihoods of rural farmers throughout the country and saved millions of dollars.

The success of the Rift Valley Fever prediction models gave the researchers more confidence in their methods. They believed that NASA satellites could predict and halt all manner of outbreaks. Researchers focus on neglected diseases like cholera. These diseases have connections to environmental conditions that hit developing countries and impoverished people the hardest. Newer satellites add the ability to measure variables like temperature and rainfall. Researchers are able to use it more than just the visual data utilized in the initial Rift Valley Fever predictions, thanks to the improved models.

Tracking Cholera

Cholera infects from 1.4 to 4 million people and kills more than 140,000 each year. There are two distinct forms of cholera: endemic and epidemic. Endemic cholera is present in bodies of water primarily during the dry season. This means communities living along the coasts are typically prepared for an outbreak. Epidemic cholera comes about during weather events like floods and often leaves inland communities unprepared for the disease. Due to its infectiousness and connection to weather events, it is the most promising disease that new scientific models have analyzed.

In 2013, a research team successfully modeled cholera outbreaks in Bangladesh using NASA satellites. The real test of the team’s predictive models would come in 2017, however, when it used the same model in a very different part of the world: Yemen. The model worked nearly perfectly. Researchers predicted exactly where the outbreaks would occur nearly a full month in advance. The fact that the models worked in impoverished and war-torn Yemen is especially notable for those concerned with extreme poverty. It means that the previously expensive and dangerous work of entering countries like Yemen in order to do disease research is no longer necessary. Instead, early warning systems can be implemented. But even if they fail, governments and organizations can send vaccines and medicines to exactly the right locations. Cholera outbreaks and their disproportionate death rates among the global poor will hopefully soon be a thing of the past.

Hope for the Future

By halting outbreaks before they begin, international aid dollars can have more efficient use. Prevention is always less expensive than reaction. Information in and of itself is valuable and the more information poverty-fighting organizations have, the better they can spend their dollars to maximize utility and help the most people. As satellite technology advances along with newer predictive models, preventing disease outbreaks could save developing economies and aid organizations hundreds of millions of dollars each year.

Jeff Keare
Photo: Pixabay

Biotechnology in UgandaBiotechnology’s recent rise has led many countries with abundant resources to further their healthcare services and agriculture. Embracing this innovation movement has led Uganda to improve its economic growth and the country’s development significantly. By doing so, Uganda progresses to have an edge in growing a bio-resource economy due to the country’s rich resources. The constant advancement of biotechnology in Uganda has led to improved farming, toxic waste management and medical diagnostics and treatments. Continued improvement depends on the governmental support to the science and technology field.

About Uganda’s Biotechnology

While this form of technology covers a wide range of live organism manipulation, biotechnology in Uganda solely deals with technology associated with transgenic organisms and recombinant DNA alteration. This form of modern scientific technology became prominent in 1993. This was when the Ugandan Department of Animal Science and Faculty of Agriculture at Makerere University proposed using the transgenically derived bovine somatotropin (BST) hormone for cattle growth and lactate production. Genetic engineering of agrobacteria produces the BST hormone and boosts the agriculture economy in return. However, due to the controversy over growth hormones at the time, the import of BST halted.

Two years later, biotechnology usage was necessary for Phase 1 trials of a potential HIV-1 vaccine (ALVAC vCP 205). It was the first HIV-1 preventative vaccine study in Uganda and Africa as a whole. This vaccine was a live recombinant canarypox vector expressing HIV-1 glycoproteins. Both the BST and HIV-1 vaccine proposals provided a basis for the foundation for the national biosafety guidelines. They led to the establishment of the National Biosafety Committee in 1996.

Research into biotechnology continues to pose an advantage for Uganda. Moving these transgenic products to the commercial market requires a full governmental understanding within the biotechnology innovation market.

Effects on Ugandan Healthcare and Agriculture

Over the years, Ugandan biotechnology has widely helped both the healthcare and agriculture industry. Laboratory projects regarding genetic resistance to pathogens, droughts and other disasters aid the crop growth throughout the nation. Ongoing research on animal vaccines such as East Coast Fever and Foot and Mouth Disease has facilitated the animal life expectancy. The study has also improved food production in Uganda.

Characterization of crop pathogens such as sweet potato feathery mottle virus through molecular markers has led to better disease prevention techniques. For example, east African Highland bananas are being genetically modified to resist banana bacterial wilt, weevils and overall improve the nutritional value of the plant. Established in 2007, these modified bananas have been able to confer resistance against the black Sigatoka disease.

Additionally, the crops’ genetic diversity multiplies more now than ever, prompting a path towards a more complicated and safe GMO industry. Bananas and pineapples are artificially bred using tissue culture techniques, providing more products annually. Agro-Genetic Technologies Ltd’s (AGT) coffee bean proliferation is also underway.

Regarding the health sector, pharmacokinetics and drug resistance techniques receive heavy study. Multi-drug and drug-resistant diseases widespread in Uganda, such as tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and malaria, are especially heavily studied. Clinical trials for DNA-based vaccines utilizing the recombinant adenovirus five vectors are also in progress.

Population Participation Increases

In the past few years, an average biotechnology worker in Uganda earned around 3,520,000 UGX per month. Biotechnology in Uganda has led to sufficient wages. However, this form of science has also increased the participation of different demographic groups, namely women. Women in the field have strongly encouraged the use of agricultural biotechnology.

Dr. Priya Namanya Bwesigye is the lead Ugandan banana researcher at the National Agricultural Research Laboratories (NARL) in Kawanda. She claims that African women are looking for new solutions. They are also looking into how they can use technology to give their people and themselves better and improved crop varieties to fight hunger and improve living quality. Bwesigye and her team use genetic engineering to make disease-resistant bananas and provide more nutrition. One of these modified bananas provides vitamin A as well. Her program provides farmers with these improved bananas and a foundation for the multiplication of said fruit with proper restraints.

For biotechnology in Uganda to take off, the population must be adequately educated about the effects of this form of science and its changes. Bwesigye, for one, explains agricultural biotechnology to farmers and why it is necessary. The Uganda Biosciences Information Center (UBIC) began training teachers in this modern form of science. This was done to popularize the technology in local communities. UBIC trained 27 teachers and 12 textbook authors after the education department mandated that the national curriculum in secondary schools integrated this new form of science. The National Crops Resources Research Institute (NaCRRI) held a one-week training course. Participants visit field trials of genetically modified crops and other research laboratories. These trials and laboratories involved different aspects of agriculture and health.

The Biosafety Bill of Uganda

With the use of biotechnology rising, ethical problems have started to arise. To ease integrating this new form of technology into the mainstream market, the Ugandan government established the Biosafety Bill of Uganda. This bill’s mission is to provide a proper framework that enforces safe development and biotechnology in Uganda. Its mission is also to regulate research and the release of these GMOs into the public. The population was torn between the ethical controversy surrounding biotechnology. However, the bill was able to go into effect in 2018 after much deliberation.

Overall, Ugandan biotechnology has dramatically impacted the country, especially in its agriculture and the healthcare industry. As time progresses, biotechnology in Uganda has improved and heavily aids as an asset to the country.

Aditi Prasad
Photo: Flickr

Ebola Survivors
The Ebola epidemic that ravaged the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) in 2018 claimed more than 2,250 lives. Doctors and nurses worked vigorously for months to treat patients and stop the spread of the deadly disease. Finally, in early March 2020, the DRC was able to announce that it had discharged its last Ebola patient. After the country’s lengthy battle with the virus, citizens are seeing that the end of the outbreak is finally within reach. With this new horizon in sight, here’s how Ebola survivors in Congo are giving back to their communities.

Interacting with Patients

There are more than 1,000 Ebola survivors in the DRC. These survivors have developed antibodies that can last up to a decade, allowing them protective immunity against Ebola. Essentially, if survivors come into contact with someone infected, they are not at risk of contracting the disease again.

This allows them to interact with sufferers who may feel isolated and alone during their treatment. Members of the Ebola Survivors Association were able to talk with and provide companionship to patients suffering from Ebola without making them feel alienated.

Spreading Awareness One Home at a Time

Members of the Ebola Survivors Association have been serving their community in Beni, a northeastern city in the DRC, by visiting homes to educate families on Ebola prevention strategies. One member, Gemima Landa, goes above and beyond as a way to thank the healthcare team that saved her life when she was infected.

Landa spends her week visiting countless neighborhoods in Beni. She shares her own story to enlighten families on how to stay healthy. She also makes regular visits to health centers to meet with mothers and pregnant women to explain to them how they have a crucial role in protecting their children against the deadly disease. Landa has been able to spread Ebola awareness and share life-saving information with hundreds of Congolese, and she isn’t the only survivor who’s making a difference.

Caring for Orphans of Ebola

With Ebola having taken so many lives across the country, it also left hundreds of children parentless as a result. Fortunately, survivors were quick to volunteer their time to step in and care for these orphans by providing love, attention and other necessities children desperately need during such a difficult time.

UNICEF also stepped in to help by partnering with survivors and opening nurseries close to Ebola treatment facilities. This is so that the caregivers would have a separate space to tend to the children. These nurseries provide daily screenings and checkups. Additionally, children who may have the disease can be cared for by survivors, who don’t have to risk being infected because they have developed an immunity.

There are now more Ebola survivors in the world than ever. The survivors in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have proven how valuable their help can be to impacted communities. If volunteers continue to band together and share their experiences, the world could be on its way to a healthier, Ebola-free future.

Hadley West
Photo: Flickr