Scottish experts help fight Covid-19 in Uganda

Thursday 28 May 2020
One man and two women look at papers sitting at a desk
Christine Sekaggya, Research Scientist, and Dr Ruth Nabisere from the Infectious Diseases Institute in Kampala with Dr Derek Sloan

Scottish clinical and scientific experts are spearheading a campaign to bust myths and combat misinformation in the battle against Covid-19 in Uganda.

Led by clinicians from the University of St Andrews and NHS Fife, the joint Scottish-Ugandan team has developed a series of informative adverts and programmes for TV and radio about Covid-19. The adverts, which will be broadcast on national media channels, will encourage people to follow proven, scientific advice in a bid to stop the virus spiraling out of control in Uganda.

Featuring direct contributions from local infectious disease experts, doctors and researchers in Kampala currently involved in the fight against Covid-19, the TV and radio broadcasts will encourage people to follow evidence-based infection prevention measures.

Uganda is an African country with a strong record in detecting and managing infectious disease outbreaks. However, the scale of the current Covid-19 outbreak in the era of 24-hour communication networks presents new challenges to ensure that safe public health messages are not overpowered by conspiracy theories and misinformation. Poor and marginalised sections of society with lower health literacy may be particularly vulnerable. It is hoped that distribution of clear messages by healthcare delivery and research leaders will bust myths around the virus and inform the public of the correct advice in relation to hygiene and social distancing.

The team of clinicians and experts from Scotland are currently involved in projects in Uganda as part of the UKRI (UK Research and Innovation) Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF). The GCRF is a £1.5 billion fund announced by the UK Government in late 2015 to support cutting-edge research that addresses the challenges faced by developing countries, including promoting good health and wellbeing.

Dr Derek Sloan, Senior Lecturer in the School of Medicine at the University of St Andrews and Consultant in Infectious Diseases for NHS Fife, said: “The University of St Andrews is renowned for its leadership on critical global issues and is recognised worldwide for the quality of its teaching and research. We have worked with colleagues on the ground in Uganda to tackle TB, HIV and antibiotic resistance for a long time.

“The work we are now undertaking demonstrates the depth of our commitment to, and the strength of our relationship with, our Ugandan colleagues as we re-channel our resources and activities against a new threat. We have seen the damage which can be caused by confusion around Covid-19, how it is spread and how to combat this novel virus, and we want to help tackle the problem.

“We saw an opportunity to make a real difference to the lives of people in Uganda, using our collective expertise and working closely with local infectious disease experts. By using our research funding from existing projects taking place in Uganda, our aim is to better inform the public about their vital role in the fight against Covid-19, busting the myths around the virus and sharing the lessons learned from other countries that have been severely affected by the global pandemic.”

Dr Derek Sloan with infectious diseases colleagues in Uganda
Dr Willy Ssengooba from the Infectious Diseases Institute in Kampala with Dr Derek Sloan

NHS Fife Medical Director, Dr Christopher McKenna, said: “Healthcare services in Fife have coped particularly well in responding to Covid-19 and this is in no small part down to the diligence and hard work shown by healthcare staff in Fife over many months.

“A significant amount of work was undertaken to prepare health and care services in the weeks leading up to the first positive cases of Covid-19. The current pandemic is a truly global emergency and our local planning was informed by the experiences of other nations in managing the virus.

“Building on the long track record of Scottish scientists in life sciences and humanitarian work, we are delighted that members of our team are also working as conscientious global citizens, strengthening the fight against Covid-19 across the world and sharing their learning to benefit people here in Fife.”

Christine Sekaggya, Research Scientist from the Infectious Diseases Institute in Kampala, added: “At the Infectious Diseases Institute in Kampala, we really value our association with the University of St Andrews. Covid-19 demonstrates to everyone what we already knew – infectious diseases are a global problem and we need to mobilise resources to tackle them together.

“Effective and accurate science communication is a crucial pillar of any epidemic response, so we were delighted to be able to use funding from the GCRF programme in Scotland to speak directly to the population about the risks they currently face and address myths about Covid-19.

“We will continue to work closely with Dr Sloan and all of our colleagues in Scotland, exchanging ideas and learning together as we tackle health emergencies now, and in the future.”

To ensure social distancing and mitigate the spread of the virus, the team have also been working alongside local doctors in Kampala to safeguard the delivery of much-needed HIV-TB drugs to patients at home. Limiting use of public transport and enforcing social distancing rules are key to help stem the rate of infection of Covid-19 in the population. By utilising some of the GCRF funds, the scientists and doctors have been able to ensure patients still receive their life-saving medication without unnecessarily exposing themselves to the risk of catching Covid-19.

Clinicians from the University of St Andrews and NHS Fife have worked closely with medical colleagues on many aspects of healthcare delivery in Uganda for several years. As has been shown worldwide, co-operation is key in the fight against Covid-19, on an international, national and local level. Ensuring the general public is well-informed on the facts of the virus and the vital role they play in the battle against it is just as important as the role of the scientists developing tests and vaccines world-wide.

Adverts and programmes:

Doctalk Show – Covid-19 Myths & Misconceptions, episode one

Doctalk Show – Covid-19 Myths & Misconceptions, episode two

Doctalk Show – Covid-19 Myths & Misconceptions, episode three

Doctalk Show – Covid-19 Myths & Misconceptions, episode four

About GCRF

About UKRI
UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) works in partnership with universities, research organisations, businesses, charities and government to create the best possible environment for research and innovation to flourish. UKRI aims to maximise the contribution of each of its component parts, working individually and collectively. The organisation works with its many partners to benefit everyone through knowledge, talent and ideas. Operating across the whole of the UK with a combined budget of more than £7 billion, UKRI brings together the seven research councils, Innovate UK and Research England.

Issued by the University of St Andrews Communications Office.

Category Covid-19

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