Welcome to Africanews

Please select your experience

Watch Live



Ugandan lab gives early alerts for zoonotic diseases

The facility run by Uganda Wildlife Authority tracks zoonotic diseases in national parks where many communities live close to a wide variety of wildlife   -  
Copyright © africanews


More than half of all human infections such as Malaria, Ebola, and SARS are zoonotic in origin, according to the US Centers for Disease Control.

Its scientists estimate more than 6 out of every 10 known infectious diseases in people can be spread from animals.

It say three out of every four new or emerging infectious diseases in people come from animals.

As growing populations spill over onto previously undisturbed areas of wildlife, the risk of transmission increases.

In 2004, there was an outbreak of anthrax at the 1,978 square kilometer Queen Elizabeth National Park.

It killed hundreds of animals, including hippos and elephants.

Veterinary scientists scrambled to identify the disease which was threatening to wipe out a big chunk of the park's wildlife, but then the lack of facilities made sample collection and testing difficult.

Uganda has tried to change this.

Now inside the park at Mweya is this newly commissioned Uganda Wildlife Authority Diagnostics and Research Laboratory which is equipped to deal with potentially dangerous pathogens.

The Executive Director of the Uganda Wildlife Authority, Sam Mwandha, believes the new facility is essential to help the country address the major challenges faced in wildlife conservation and disease control.

He says: "Our ability to actually pick samples and test samples for diseases was limited. Very often, if we were not able to get support from the UVRI - the Uganda Viral Research Institute in Entebbe - we would have to ship these samples abroad to be able to determine what disease we have. So working with our partners from the US called DiTRA they offered to help us construct a Biosafety Level 2 laboratory that is constructed in Mweya, that laboratory is now operational."

Staff at the lab say they're now able to research and trace dangerous pathogens which occur in wildlife.

Gloria Akurut, a molecular biologist, says: "The capability of this lab is currently in three forms. One, we can do diagnosis. Two, we can do forensics, that is we are developing a pipeline for forensics, especially for wildlife. And then we do research, and when we do research we do research in bacteria pathogens, protozoan pathogens, we do research in viral pathogens as well."

This laboratory is the first of its kind in the region.

It monitors incidents and acts as an early warning system for the transference of zoonotic infections.

Akurut believes the laboratory will help to protect local people.

She says: "We know that the communities around, in this park especially, do engage in eating wildlife. When they find carcasses they will eat them especially the hippo carcasses. If someone eats a carcass that they don't know the cause of death it is a risk to them because you do not know what has killed it, what if it is a pathogen that can kill you. So in the past we have had anthrax outbreaks, both in the wildlife and then it spills over to human beings, it also spills over to livestock."

Since opening it doors a few months ago, the laboratory has already started investigations into potential diseases that might pose a threat to global public health.

The team is investigating the sudden death of an American tourist who died while on an excursion in Uganda, but is not releasing details.

"The burden in wildlife tends to cascade to the livestock and then cascades to human beings. Like for example a tourist died due to Marburg (virus) in a python cave, so we are doing a study to follow up on those bats to see how far do they move from the cave to the villages, so that we can sensitize those people, that despite (because) (these bats) them coming to your village they are carrying a given disease that might be detrimental to your health," says lab technician Diana Namanya.

According to the staff here, the pandemic shows the need for this kind of facility to rapidly identify zoonotic diseases.

View more