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Uganda Intensifies Fight to Prevent Avian Flu

A new influenza research laboratory has opened in Kampala to strengthen the monitoring of avian flu in the East Africa region. The modern state of the art laboratory is housed at the Faculty of Veterinary Medicine at Makerere University in the capital, Kampala. The director of the facility, Dr. Denis Byarugaba, told VOA English to Africa reporter Douglas Mpuga the laboratory resulted from a joint project between Makerere University and the Walter Reed Army Medical Center in the United States.

“Our objective in putting this infrastructure in place is to conduct surveillance of avian influenza and influenza-like viruses,” he said.

Dr. Byarugaba said there is a national influenza center in Entebbe and the two laboratories will be working closely.

“Our strategy is to have two laboratories -- one for non-human samples and the other for human samples. This one will be handling non-human samples,” he said.

The Makerere influenza laboratory is part of a network of laboratories worldwide.

“We had to undertake recruitment and training of laboratory personnel and we are now ready to begin receiving samples and analyzing them,” he said.

Dr. Byarugaba explained that influenza is not new but after the recent outbreaks of H5NI, which is a very highly pathogenic strain, there were concerns that it could develop into a pandemic strain.

He also expressed concern about the effect of migratory birds from East Asia.

“Influenza viruses have got their natural reservoirs in water birds, and most of these birds are migratory, and when these viruses cross into the domestic poultry they become highly pathogenic, although they cause less problem in their natural reservoirs,” he said.

The director described the collaboration with Nature Uganda, a Bird Life International partner in Uganda.

“We are working closely with them, we shall be going out and picking samples from various water bodies where these migrations occur and analyzing these samples to see if these birds carry any viruses that are highly pathogenic,” said Dr. Byarugaba.

He added that their program is part of a network in the sub-Saharan region and they cooperate closely with Kenya and Cameroon.

“We shall also have some other people on board, including [people in] Nigeria and Egypt, where there are currently serious outbreaks of bird flu,” he said.

The avian flu virus, which is known to pass from infected poultry to humans, has killed more than 140 people, mostly in Asia. The dominant form of transmission is predominantly from bird to bird and from country to country.