Zika alert based on 1940s data – WHO


KAMPALA. The World Health organisation (WHO) has admitted that its current warning to pregnant travellers of circulation of Zika virus in Uganda are based on research findings dating as far back as 1947 when the virus was first isolated and confirmed in Zika forest in central Uganda.
Last week, the Health minister, Dr Jane Ruth Aceng, dismissed as false and baseless the standing alert by WHO warning travellers of circulation of the Zika virus in Uganda.
In an interview with Daily Monitor last week, Dr Aceng hit back at WHO saying: “Whereas it (Zika virus) was discovered in Uganda, we don’t have it and they know it very well. Even when it broke out in Brazil, we did not have it here.”
The virus that leaves children with abnormally small head and underdeveloped brain, hit Brazil in 2016 and left more than 3,000 children suffering from the aftereffects.
But Dr Aceng, who had asked Ugandans to disregard the alert, also tasked WHO to explain how they arrived at the conclusion that the virus was still in circulation in Uganda. Earlier, WHO had issued a travel guideline advising pregnant women against travelling to Uganda, terming it a Zika-classified country with a potential of passing birth defects from the virus infection.
But WHO insists Uganda is a ZIka –infected country because there is no current research indicating that the virus known to cause microcephaly among newborns has disappeared since it was isolated and confirmed to be in circulation in 1940s.
Ms Miriam Nanyunja, the disease prevention and control officer, said the WHO travel advisory on their website was based on previous research information dating back to 1947 when the virus was isolated and researchers confirmed it was in circulation in Zika forest off the shores of Lake Victoria near Entebbe.
“As long as there is a gap, WHO will use the most recent information [which dates far back to 1940s],” Ms Nanyunja told Saturday Monitor in a phone interview yesterday.
“Currently, we don’t know whether the strain, which is here, is the same as that causing microcephaly; so based on that, it is why Uganda was categorised among countries where the zika virus is in circulation,” Ms Nanyunja said.
She said the WHO alert has been further justified by the latest research published on Wednesday in one of the science journals indicating that three cases of the Zika fever were recently confirmed among adults in Nkokonjeru municipality, Buikwe District.
But Ms Nanyunja also said researchers who carried out the study between 2014 and 2016 in partnership with the Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI) are yet to establish whether the simple symptomic strain of virus which was discovered in Uganda is the same as that which causes microcephaly.
Our efforts to get back to the Health ministry officials on the clarifications by WHO on the contentious guidelines were futile as our repeated phone calls to Dr Aceng went unanswered.
Dr Henry Mwebesa, the acting director general at the ministry, could not also be reached on his known mobile phone numbers by press time.


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