New funding supports COVID-19 research in Uganda

Globe line drawing

The Uganda Research Unit

The Uganda Research Unit is a collaboration between the Medical Research Council (MRC), The Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI) and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM).

Uganda’s national response plan to COVID-19 is being developed with the help of the MRC/UVRI and LSHTM Uganda Research Unit.

Funding of £2.7 million was given to the research unit to contribute to a series of preventative and analytical COVID-19 studies.

The first full genomes in Uganda

The funding led to the generation of the first full genomes of SARS-CoV-2 in Uganda.

Data from 20 viral genomes in Uganda were obtained via Nanopore sequencing and, using rapid local sequencing, generated the first full genome sequence. This will be used to identity disease-causing pathogens and can be further used for studying diversity and tracing movement of virus strains.

The funding is also supporting the procurement of diagnostic reagents for 10,000 preliminary tests: more than 100,000 tests will be carried out in collaboration with the UVRI.

Dr Mark Palmer, Director of International Relations at the MRC, said:

Rapid and accurate sample testing is key to maintaining control of the COVID-19 epidemic.

The funding to support the strong partnership between our organisations will enable long term continuation of national diagnostic testing and viral sequencing.

[It will also] enable new clinical support and community-based surveillance studies to help mitigate the pandemic.

Surveillance and mitigation

Two COVID-19 community-based surveillance studies will be set up in strategic locations to provide data on the pandemic in high risk and general populations over 18 months.

Study populations are being set up in Lukaya town, a truck-stop on the trans-African Highway, and the adjacent sub county of Kyamulibwa, the site for the unit’s rural general population cohort.

The surveillance studies will provide the foundations for answering critical scientific questions relating to the pandemic in Uganda, including the transmission dynamics, burden and distribution of the infection.

Professor Matthew Cotton, senior virologist at the Uganda unit, and leading COVID-19 diagnostic and sequencing work, said:

The support from MRC and UKRI is allowing us to rapidly support the Uganda COVID-19 containment efforts.

The funds are enabling us to scale up viral sequencing to cover all available COVID-19 cases from Uganda and its points of entry.

Through its support of COVID-19 containment in Uganda and the generation of data on virus transmission in the region, the unit is playing a vital part in the global combat against COVID-19.

The MRC/UVRI and LSHTM Uganda Research Unit is providing a platform for researchers to contribute to COVID-19 knowledge both locally and internationally.

Last updated: 3 August 2021

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