The café started at 9.30 am and it was attended by at least 21 journalists that operate in Masaka region.
The moderator of the café Davis Buyundo, and chief convener, Malik Fahad Jjingo started the café by giving and view of the science cafes, which they said are aimed at bringing journalists and researchers together to help the public make informed decisions about their health matters among other reasons.
Buyondo welcome journalists for turning up for the café and thanked journalists that managed to publish and broadcast stories from the last science café and urged the journalists to produce as many stories as possible out of the covid19 café. He later asked the journalists to ask the guests without fear so that they could make the sessions interactive and educative.
The participants then were asked to do a self-introduction so that the guest speakers could get to know whoever was in the room. Then the moderator Buyondo welcomed the first panelist Masaka district health officer Dr Faith Nakiyimba to address the gathering.
Dr. Nakiyimba said that Masaka performed well in the first covid19 mass vaccination campaign saying that a big number of people turned at the centers they had set up for vaccination( though she could not give the numbers of the people that got their first dose) during the first drive of mass covid19 vaccination.
Dr Nakiyimba said that following the easing of the restrictions set up by the government to control the spread of the covid19 virus several people moved from places where they had been vaccinated, saying that this situation caused a decline in the number of people that went back for their second doses in Masaka.
“The reduction in the number of people coming to get their second doses at our facilities may not necessarily mean that these people did not receive their second jabs since they could have received it from the places where they had gone following the opening up of the country amidst covid19” she added.
Dr. Faith Nakiyimba revealed that with support from Korea Foundation for International Health Care (KOFIH), Masaka district is enhancing the capacity of Village Health Teams (VHTS) to enhance community health and disease prevention in the district. She said that VHTs will do a critical role in creating awareness among their communities about the need for vaccination against diseases including covid19.
Dr. Nakiyimba noted that Masaka still has several doses of vaccines urging people to continue going to selected public health facilities for vaccination as a way of boosting their ability to fight against the virus, adding that though COVID-19 is no longer a public health emergency, it’s still with us.
However, Dr. Nakiyimba asked the member of the public to learn from the way they managed COVID-19 by continuing to observe SOPs so that they can control several ailments such as COVID-19 and other outbreaks since some simple measures like hand washing are key in disease prevention.
“Due to lack of demand for COVID-19 testing kits we had expired, our VHTs are going to help in improving and strengthening community health and this will help bring services closer to people including covid19, vaccination, and other disease management since they are trained to refer cases to health facilities, and we expect that through community engagement we shall be able to attain 100% vaccination in our area” she added.
The moderator thanked Dr. Nakiyimba for the presentation and introduced another guest speaker Richard Musisi the Executive Director MADIPHA who presented to the participants the role played by the association of people living with a disability during the pandemic and the efforts they have put up to prevent the people living with disability from contracting covid19.
Richard Musisi the Executive Director of the Masaka Association of Disabled Persons Living HIV/AIDS (MADIPHA) started his presentation by sharing the overview of their association MADIPHA, which he said is an association of Persons with disabilities who have tested positive for HIV or are affected by TB, together with their family members.
Musisi revealed that MADIPHA was founded in 2009; adding that it operates in the five districts of Greater Masaka.
The Association is in the process of scaling up its activities to include other districts outside its original districts of operations adding that they completed the process of changing the name “Association of Persons with Disabilities Living with HIV ( ADPHA) Uganda.
Musisi then proceeded to share the interventions MADIPHA came up with to help its members following the outbreak of the covid19 which were ranging from supporting their members to continue accessing critical HIV/AIDS prevention, care, and treatment during the lockdown.
He told the gathering that 293 people with disabilities living with and affected by TB were supported to receive COVID-19 information through peer to peer approach.
He further said that 115 people living with disabilities were supported to access HIV and TB services and other life-saving drugs, Epilepsy, Mental health pleasure/ diabetes& cancer. Whereas 487 received COVID-19 prevention messages on their mobile phones about 37 were lost from ART.
Musisi explained that 1120 reusable Masks and 300 sanitary packs(Jerricans, bars of soap) were distributed to people living with disabilities while over 5,000 kg of food, and relief were distributed through RDCs and directly to the households of MADIPHA members.
Musisi told participants that MADIPHA also developed and disseminated disability-accessible awareness messages on local radios and social media platforms in efforts of protecting people with disability from catching covid19. (#MADIPHA& POOKINO CAMPAIGN AGAINST #COVI-19 in UGANDA.
Musisi then took the participants through the MADIPHA COVID-19 Vaccination campaign as one of the initiatives the association came up with to support the government extended covid19 vaccination drive to the PWDS that had missed out on the competitive mass vaccination drive.
He noted that the covid19 vaccination activities that took place between November 2022-April 2023 were made inclusive of all people with disabilities including Physical, mental, Intellectual, Psycho-social, sensory, and those living with HIV/ TB ( Tuberculosis).
“The vaccination focused on rural, hard-to-reach sub-counties with a high concentration of people with disabilities and a total of 867 people with disabilities were vaccinated with different types of covid-19 vaccines (108 in Kalungu, 200 in Rakai, 177 in Lwengo, 175 in Bukomansimbi and 207 in Masaka District) and 143 caretaker/spouses were also vaccinated,” he added.
Over 197 Health workers and Village Health Team (VHT) coordinators were trained on invisible disabilities and the kind of reasonable accommodation they need to access Covid-19 services. Awareness creation about disability and barriers people with disabilities were facing during the mass COVID-19 vaccination campaigns among 44 cultural and religious leaders and community influencers.
Musisi said that over 30 persons with disabilities community peer monitors were equipped with first-hand information on COVID-19 vaccination to encounter myths that were about vaccination.
He however said that a vaccination campaign during a time when the country was under an Ebola outbreak this year, was somewhat challenging since MADIPHA had to design and provide multiple information for – COVID-19 and Ebola at the same time.
Musisi said that Over 600 members of MADIPHA received a single dose and needed a second one which may be a booster since a few selected districts had Johnsons and Johnson covid19 vaccine.
“We were also challenged by the low vaccine uptake in the general community which left several doses expired, this pushed us to apply different field approaches such as home visits, community meetings, and one on one sessions to reach out to those high support needs,” he added.
Musisi said MADIPHA also got some interference from family Members that tried resisting vaccination due to myths and misconceptions about the vaccines but local leaders came in handy though other family members refused completely.
“Attitudinal barriers, charity mentality, model, Limited awareness on policies, laws & Disability legal framework and local Overwhelming demand for services by persons with disabilities including emergency medical and social support and income generating activities. High cases of GBV among girls and women with disabilities were among other challenges the association faced during covid19” he added.
The second presentation of Musisi ended with the challenges the association members faced during the lockdown instituted as covid19 control measure and we had to break for the tea break.
The moderator welcomed the participants back from the break tea and introduced Dr Jonathan Kitonsa researcher at MRC Masaka Centre who discussed new innovations put in place to boost the fight against covid19 and other respiratory infections among other things.
Dr Kitonsa started his presentation by sharing the current global situation of covid19 cases where 767,364,883 were reported globally and 6,938,353 deaths. While Uganda reported 170,775 cases and 3,632 death.
He then proceeded to share the WHO strategic preparedness and response plan, where he told the participants that The WHO declared COVID-19 to be a public health emergency of international concern (PHEIC) on 30th January 2020 and then The WHO declared an end to the PHEIC on 05th May 2023.
Dr. Kitonsa said COVID-19 is no longer an emergency, but a condition that is here for the longer term adding that the pandemic is now in its 4th year since its emergence though currently with the lowest number of deaths reported and life returning to normal, however, millions of people are still getting infected and thousands dying.
He explained that potential for new variants remains: Omicron remains a major strain globally, but sub-variants emerging in different settings though unfortunately, testing and reporting in most Ugandan facilities are now low.
He adds that some of the lessons learned at this stage are that health is fundamental to economies and society, national security, and political stability as well.
Dr Kitonsa said 70% of the world’s population is vaccinated, whereas 30% is yet to receive a single dose adding that as of 5th April, 89% of health workers and 82% of older adults worldwide had received a complete primary series of vaccines.
Primary healthcare worker coverage in low-income countries is 52%, and only 35% for older adults and very low uptake of booster doses. Besides the acute effects of covid 19, 6% progress to getting long covid.
He explained that there is now a need for countries to shift from emergency response t sustainable comprehensive management of covid19 as WHO advised with broader disease prevention and control programs.
Dr. Kitonsa said that WHO noted that Reducing and controlling the incidence of SARS-CoV-2 variants of concern, with a particular focus on reducing infections in high-risk and vulnerable populations;
WHO further noted that Preventing, diagnosing, and treating COVID-19 to reduce morbidity, mortality, and long-term sequelae; plus Supporting Member States’ transition from crisis response to sustainable, integrated, longer-term, and strengthened COVID-19 disease management will all boost the fight against the virus.
Efforts now need to be put into strengthening the health system, by restoring and reinforcing all available means such as integrating covid19 surveillance and management into the treatment of other illnesses.
Dr Kitonsa proceeded with sharing the 5 components of the WHO preparedness, readiness, and response plan which includes collaborative surveillance, community protection, emergency coordination and access to countermeasures, and safe and scalable care.
Under collaborative surveillance, he explained that WHO Encourages countries to develop strong data collection and reporting systems to be able to report more meaningful & impactful data. He adds that the pandemic has not reached a stable predictable situation, and variants continue emerging adding that testing and genomic surveillance remain very important in the fight against covid19.
Community protection is another key element among the five components set by WHO to fight covid19 and under this component communication, community engagement, infodemic management, management of cross-border movement, mass gatherings, vaccination, vaccines research, and policy and strategy will take a central role in the management of covid19.
WHO also stresses the emergency coordination mechanism where Dr. Kitonsa said that Multi partner mechanisms for coordination, planning, financing, monitoring, and evaluation at national and sub-national level continue to be essential as well as Enhanced inter-ministerial, multi-disciplinary, and multi-sectoral coordination remains necessary during this transition period.
Access to countermeasures such as access to preventive measures, vaccines, and therapeutics prompted WHO to promote access to vaccines through the COVAX, a facility that has delivered about 2 billion vaccine doses to 146 countries that WHO also promotes research for vaccines and therapeutics.
He added that safe and scalable care encompasses infection prevention and control (IPC), protection of the health workforce, case management, clinical operations, and therapeutics.
WHO further noted that Establishing and sustaining clear pathways to clinical care remains a critical element of the response to COVID-19 and partner mechanisms for coordination, planning, financing, monitoring, and evaluation at national and sub-national levels continue to be essential.
“Enhanced inter-ministerial, multi-disciplinary, and multi-sectoral coordination remains necessary during this transition period. Hence a call to focus on key priorities, including strengthening integrated surveillance, continuing to develop strategies to increase access to and use of affordable diagnostics and therapeutics, and strengthening pandemic preparedness,” Dr. Kitonsa added.
Dr Kitonsa also revealed that MRC and its partners are doing different studies at MRC in an effort to make a local vaccine for covid19. He said that a number of studies being conducted at MRC include COVAC Uganda: Vaccine trial, COVAC 003: Vaccine trial, COVAC: Effectiveness study, and OTAC: Therapeutic trial among others.
He explained that COVAC UGANDA: Safety and immunogenicity of a modified self-amplifying ribonucleic acid (saRNA) vaccine encoding the S glycoprotein of SARS-CoV-2, the causative agent of COVID-19, in SARS-CoV-2 seronegative and seropositive Ugandan population.
He added that its primary objective is to look at safety and immune responses for SARS-CoV-2 seronegative and seropositive individuals from two immunizations with LNP-nCOV saRNA-02 administered IM 4 weeks apart at one dose level in 42 participants aged 18-45 years.
He said that this has completed the follow-up and it showed good immune responses, better than seen in a similar trial in the UK. Emphasizing that vaccine responses vary in populations.
He e explained that another trial COVAC 033 which is in phase 2 is a placebo-controlled, observer-blind, age-stratified randomized, multicentre antigen-dose study to test the safety and immunogenicity of a dose level of the COVAC-2 vaccine (25 μg protein) administered twice (4 weeks apart) in generally healthy adults 18+ years of age.
He added that this trial’s primary objective is the Safety and tolerability of the COVAC-2 vaccine (25 μg dosing of S1 antigen) in generally healthy adults ages 18+ adding that the study being conducted at 3 sites in Uganda, including MRC, UVRI, and Epicentre.
Dr Kitosa said that another study COVVAR STUDY: COVID-19 Vaccine effectiveness and variants in Uganda: a test-negative case-control study with genetic sequencing is also running with its primary objective being Estimate vaccine effectiveness of licensed COVID-19 vaccines against laboratory-confirmed COVID-19 disease and this is conducted in Masaka, Kyamulibwa and Entebbe sites.
Another study OTAC Study he said is an International Multicenter, Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial of the Safety and Efficacy of Anti-Coronavirus Hyperimmune Intravenous Immunoglobulin (hIVIG) for the Treatment of Adult Outpatients in Early Stages of COVID-19.
He explained that this study’s Primary objective is to look at outpatients with recently diagnosed SARS-CoV-2 infection to compare the safety and efficacy of a single infusion of Hyperimmune immunoglobulin (hIVIG) versus placebo, each given with standard of care (SOC), on clinical status after seven days.
Dr. Kitonsa completed his presentation with a call to the public to continue to learn to live with this virus, adding that we must work as hard to sustain and maintain the hard-fought gains that have been made across all aspects of the response – from surveillance to vaccination, from managing the infodemic to increasing access to life-saving diagnostics, oxygen, and therapeutics, from increasing infection prevention and control in all health facilities to better risk communication and community engagement and more.
The moderator then opened up a question and answer session where the participants interacted with the speakers asking questions of their choice before heading for a lunch break that was held at the hotel restaurant.
Davis Buyondo moderator welcomed the participants back to the meeting handing over the floor to another guest speaker, Juliet Nalubwama Mabike one of the survivors of COVID-19 and person living with disability explained that people living with disability were greatly affected by the restrictions imposed in the country during the lockdown imposed following COVID-19 outbreak.
She said that accessing services including vaccination was very challenging since several vaccination points established for mass vaccination were inaccessible to them because of the big numbers that turned at the vaccination centers and the long queues yet some of her colleagues with physical disabilities could not line up at the vaccination centers.
“I got a complication of having challenges with my breathing and heart following the infection and I am still painfully living with some conditions like my heart beating at a very high rate as if I have done some heavy work even if I have not done something hard which make my life uncomfortable, yet this was not the case before I got infected with COVID-19,” she added.
Nalubwama thanked their association MADIPHA for coming up to their rescue saying that if it was not for their leader’s efforts a big number of people living with a disability had missed out on vaccination adding that may also yet to get a second and booster doses asked the health authorities to always design inclusive programs in case such an emergency reoccurs in the country.
The moderator Davis Buyondo thanked Nalubwama for sharing her experience and inviting another speaker Al Mahad Ssenkabirwa, who shared with the journalist various story ideas and angles they can take to come up with a good covid19 story ranging from personal experiences of survivors of COVID-19 to the innovations and research by local scientists to fight against covid19 and other illnesses.
In closing remarks Malik Fahad Jjingo and Davis Buyondo, the organizers of Masaka covid19 science cafe asked fellow journalists to file stories from the café so that the café can attain its intended objectives.