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Uganda starts testing for monkeypox as WHO declares disease public health concern 

FILE A UVRI technician in the lab

FILE A UVRI technician in the lab

The Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI) has started testing for monkeypox after the World Health Organization declared that the disease has now become a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC). 

Prof Pontiano Kaleebu, the UVRI executive director said they have so far conducted four tests at their laboratory in Entebbe and the tests all the tests turned out negative. According to Kaleebu, overall, 30 samples have been collected of which 26 were taken to South Africa because the country had not yet secured reagents.

"So far 30 have tested, 26 were sent to South Africa, 4 tested here - all of them tested negative. In the past here we have seen people here who have anti-bodies and this was even before the outbreak in Europe. We did some studies sometime back, especially near the borders...because this infection is endemic in central Africa, especially Congo," said Kaleebu. 

Globally, monkeypox cases hit an unprecedented high last week rising by 48 per cent where 4,045 new cases were recorded compared to 2,740 cases in the previous week.  

This prompted the WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to declare a PHEIC even though the committee of experts he had convened to study the issue did not advise him to do so, having failed to reach a consensus.

This declaration, Tedros said allows them to take additional measures to try and curb the virus’s spread. He adds that the announcement means that countries should put in place measures to quickly curb transmission once the disease is detected.

Dr Charles Olaro, the director of curative services in the ministry of Health says no serious measures have been considered so far apart from the usual disease surveillance, especially at the border points.

"WHO advises countries depending on the magnitude of the epidemic just like we had for Covid. So looking at the spread of monkeypox, WHO has advised countries to prepare themselves and the response in terms of surveillance, response and being able to make early diagnosis. So as a country we have been building capacity at Uganda Virus Research Institute because already we have been doing surveillance," added Olaro. 

Already, Olaro says some tests done by the ministry of Health have found some people to have antibodies even as no active human case has been identified.

"Even if we have not had monkeypox before, we have people who have had anti-bodies before in the chicken pox belt like in the Congo and Zaire and we need to be able to prepare just like you take into consideration at any points of entry," said Olaro. 

Since early May 2022, cases of monkeypox have been reported from countries where the disease is not endemic, and continue to be reported in several endemic countries.

According to WHO, most reported cases so far have been identified through sexual health or other health services in primary or secondary health-care facilities and have involved mainly, but not exclusively, men who have sex with men. The majority of cases reported in the past four weeks were from Europe.

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