Experts launches ‘COVID-19 immunity’ study among Ugandans

COVID-19 immunity study

Kampala, Uganda | URN | Experts are set to start evaluating whether Ugandans have a level of protection against getting infected with coronavirus (COVID-19) disease.

Prof. Dennis Byarugaba, who heads the National Flu Surveillance Group and has been studying flu-causing viruses for over 20 years said they are embarking on this evaluation basing on the background that already the population has antibodies to other common coronaviruses that have been circulating.

Although he doesn’t mention the timelines as to when this evaluation ends, it’s anticipated that it’s results could offer a clue on why not so many Ugandans have fallen sick with the viral disease that has paralyzed the world requiring high-level treatment and intensive care services for casualties.

In the study, they will be able to establish whether or not the common viruses can offer cross-protection against each other.

Of the 264 positive cases of COVID-19 so far recorded in the country, the majority are truck drivers followed by those that had previously travelled to some high-risk countries.

The sporadic cases picked from the community have been only 11 and preliminary results of the survey to establish the extent of community transmission have already revealed no risk.

In addition, the 80 that are so far in hospital are according to the Ministry of Health in stable condition, just being given simple treatments such as vitamins and painkillers, the same as the 65 that have been discharged. These mild cases are thought to be partly due to the fact that Ugandans have antibodies that can easily ward off infection.

But, Prof. Pontiano Kaleebu, a virologist and Executive Director of the Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI) says this reason should be put to a test through a scientific study. For him, it’s still unclear for the case of COVID-19 that antibodies are effective in offering protection and therefore says even those that have been discharged after recovery could get re-infected.

He says that some studies show that antibodies disappear after some time explaining that usually antibodies start developing within five days of infection.

He also notes that testing for antibodies will be relevant later when assessing how many people were affected by the coronavirus.

Early this month, Uganda’s ministry of health warned of social media reports alleging strong immunity among Ugandans and other Africans against COVID-19, saying such rumors are causing laxity in the fight against the pandemic.

Diana Atwine, Permanent Secretary of the ministry of health, said in a tweet that the public should disregard such unproven theories, which pose a serious risk of undermining the country’s efforts to contain the novel coronavirus outbreak.

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“We have heard rumours of herd immunity among Ugandans and this is causing laxity,” said Atwine.

“However, my opinion is that we should not dwell so much on such unproven theories because we risk impacts of mass infections. We continue to see the devastation it has caused in other countries,” she said.

The Uganda Communications Commission (UCC), the state-owned communication regulatory body, in March vowed to crack down on individuals who circulate misleading videos, news and advice on social media concerning COVID-19.

Misleading reports could incite violence, cause financial turmoil and endanger people’s lives, according to the UCC, adding that suspects shall be prosecuted under the penal laws of Uganda.

So far, Uganda has 264 confirmed cases of COVID-19, and up to 65 people have recovered and been discharged from Hospitals.