we need more heroes doing some self-sacrifice to save other people’s lives in Uganda


UCI Building
Photo from http://socialjusticeblog.kweeta.com/

OVER the last couple of weeks Uganda has talked a lot about the deaths of two celebrities, and the sensationalism around their passing.

Over coffee with the BBCs Alan Kasujja and Kinetic’s Cedric Ndilima this week, they pointed at the front page of Daily Monitor that day and their lead story about the death of Simon Ekongo (22).

My eyes were first drawn to the part of the caption that read, “Simon died at the weekend…” which caused me some mild anxiety for obvious reasons. 

Then I imagined the acute anxiety of the people who are actually related to Simon, and changed perspective because of the reality they were facing.

I have said a prayer for Simon Ekongo, and hope his soul Rests In Peace, and that his family finds solace at this trying time.

The comment about Simon Ekongo that caught me was: “See how this story is going to end here. Not like (those ‘celebrities’ earlier alluded to)…”

I was angry at that realisation because of how true it is, and reserved the newspaper story till later in the day so I could read it in private and grieve silently.

That grief is painful – even for me who didn’t know Simon Ekongo in life

Simon Ekongo was diagnosed with leukaemia (a malignant progressive disease in which the bone marrow and other blood-forming organs produce increased numbers of immature or abnormal leukocytes. These suppress the production of normal blood cells, leading to anemia and other symptoms.) and was referred from Soroti Regional Hospital to Mulago Hospital, which is under renovation and so takes patients to Kiruddu Hospital in Munyonyo. 

He was taken to Kiruddu where, the story says, “…they tested the blood and confirmed that it was acute leukaemia…” so he was sent to the Uganda Cancer Institute (UCI) which is BACK at Mulago, in Kampala.

The meaning of the word “acute” in the English language should have made everybody involved a lot more sensitive to Simon Ekongo’s situation. 

But, the story continues, he was transported by an ambulance manned only by a driver. There were no medical professionals in the ambulance to tend to Simon Ekongo, and he eventually got dropped off at a patient’s tent at the Cancer Institute on Friday.

A patient’s tent is a tent pitched on the grounds in which patients – in this case people who are suffering from Cancer and its related pains and symptoms – are admitted and kept for a while.

Because it was a public holiday, the story says, Simon Ekongo had to wait till Monday for admission to be done – with his acute leukaemia. 

He died in the tent, in the UCI compound, on Sunday at 2:00am. 

The story can be told and refuted and corrected but it still hurts to think about. Nobody is going to name a ward or even a patch of the garden at the Cancer Institute after Simon Ekongo, to remind all the medical workers of their responsibilities and duty of care.

For years to come we will hear lots of references to money being thrown into coffins and headteachers fiddling with young girls, but how often will we remember Simon Ekongo and how he reportedly died? 

Or, more importantly, how often will we hear ways in which we can save the life of the next Simon Ekongo, or provide a decent way to exit this earth?

There is no saying he would have lived or was destined to die anyway, but the manner in which he did cannot (should not) be ignored.

I am guilty of not having visited the Uganda Cancer Institute (UCI) of recent, but reading that there is a tent for patients in the compound made me ask uncomfortable questions. 

Why is there a tent for patients in the compound of a sizeable, new building such as that of the Uganda Cancer Institute? How many of the rooms in that building are being used as offices and kitchens and pantries storing brooms, mops and other sundries?

Might there be any merit in assessing the facility and how it is being put to use so that patients with acute ailments don’t die in the cold at 2:00am under a tent canopy while the shiny building stays locked and the people with the keys are off on their public holiday activities?

What happens in the ‘Patient’s Tent’ during the times when we go through heavy rains such as those we have seen in recent months?

How do Cancer patients get protection from the elements during the very hot days such as the ones we will be facing soon? Will there be electric fans and air conditioning units installed in the ‘Patient’s tent’ for them?

I’ve seen (physically, with my own eyes) a large Mercedes Benz Sports Utility Vehicle that is reported to have been purchased at somewhere between Ushs428million and Ushs763million for a Minister in the Health Ministry, under whose tenure Simon Ekongo died in that tent.

I refuse to believe that story to be true because nobody can be that callous in this economy where I am running around with my bankers over late mortgage payments and also my landlady over late rent payments, and so on and so forth…

Expensive Car
Photo from https://thespearnews.com

Perhaps that Ushs428million-763million Mercedes Benz was a more urgently required purchase than the erection of a small, comfortable building in the compound of the Uganda Cancer Institute for Cancer Patients like Simon Ekongo to die in with some more care and dignity.

Could the Minister, perhaps, sell off the old vehicle that the Minister was using and use the proceeds to put up a small building for patients at the Uganda Cancer Institute so that people like Simon Ekongo don’t die under a tent at 2:00am (0200hrs) every other Sunday?

Or should we be focusing, as a country, on the people who lock up already existing buildings and leave Simon Ekongo and others out in the cold with acute illnesses, while they go to celebrate public holidays?

The public holiday in question, by the way, was Heroes Day.

The official theme of the day was announced as, “SELF SACRIFICE IS THE SINGULAR HEROIC PILLAR IN NATION BUILDING.”

Self-sacrifice – ‘the giving up of one’s own interests or wishes in order to help others or to advance a cause.’

It would be unfair to ask the Ministers and other senior officials to sacrifice their rights to shiny new cars and offices just so people like Simon Ekongo stop dying in tents in the compound. Let’s not do that. It might be considered self-sacrifice on the part of those officials but, hey – we need new four-wheel drive cars to drive over to attend Public Holiday activities…

As we pray for the soul of Simon Ekongo, departed from a ‘Patient’s tent’ in the compound of the Uganda Cancer Institute, let’s hope that the people who should have done a better job with him and others like him adjust the way they ‘work’, because we need more Heroes and more Self-Sacrifice in this country.

the blood in your veins can do good for somebody else – go and donate NOW! (or tomorrow)

Blood! (Photo: Simon Kaheru)
A COUPLE of weeks ago my brother Paul erupted in the middle of a conversation with considerable irritation that the national blood bank had run out of a rare blood type and someone was drumming up a campaign to urgently find this blood for a patient.

His irritation was understandable; this was certainly not the first we were hearing of a patient in need of life-saving intervention and some rare blood type being in short supply.

But why, he asked, does the Blood Bank not keep a database of those people with that rare blood type and keep going to them for regular deposits? If I am not O- today and I can’t donate that blood type I still won’t be O- next year and will feel as helpless when there is another distress call!

He had a point, but the conversation went its merry way and life moved on till several days later my friend Kamara Ariho told me his uncle couldn’t undergo critical surgery because there was insufficient blood at the Blood Bank to call on in case something went awry during his procedure.

The family was working out ways of contributing blood but the procedure is not as straightforward as putting together money for drinks at a wedding. It is actually simpler, but requires more advance planning.

That’s where we are challenged – advance planning. And that was what was irritating both Paul and Kamara. But to the credit of the people in charge, there is a register of blood donors that gets called upon when needed.

In the past among the cards and paperwork I always had in my wallet was that little card they give you when you donate blood. When you present that little strip card to the blood bank you are given priority as a blood donor, should you be in need of blood – and I have used them a couple of times.

You have to plan in advance though because the blood you donate to a blood bank must be screened and tested and taken through other scientific steps I am not academically qualified to elaborate here.

But having gone through the donation and retrieval experiences many times myself I knew the anxiety families go through when they realise blood is suddenly needed. But even at that critical time, sadly, not many families rally round and become regular lifetime blood donors.

Another friend, Nada Andersen, annually makes pilgrimages to donate blood and keeps mobilising us to join her. This week I had blood on my mind when I got fed up of the high-brow analysis in one of my many WhatsApp groups where Kampala-based people dissect such things as John (Donald) Trump and his political beliefs and basic bad manners.

I interrupted their intellectual banter with a reminder that right here, just a few metres from all of our mobile phones, we could get together to solve a national blood bank issue rather than talk about Trump’s being a misogynist.

The seniormost officials in the Ministry of Health confirmed to me that there is, indeed, a shortfall in stocks of blood – for a variety of reasons including few donors and lack of certain sundries. Our annual need is 260,000 units but we only collected 240,000 last year.

Also, the shelf life of blood is 35 days only, so if we don’t consistently replenish the stocks then…(and that explains why sometimes there is an urgent need for the rare blood types).

Since in recent days a national debate has arisen over whether or not to refer to a certain court order as stupid, here are some clear candidates for the adjective: Anyone who discusses Trump and Brexit et al while riding around in this town at risk of finding themselves in urgent need of blood, and has never donated blood; Anyone who can donate money for a party activity but has never donated half a litre of blood that would be life-saving if said party activity results in a medical emergency; and so on and so forth in that vein (excuse pun).

To free myself of any such description, I went back this week and was pleased to find that the process is still quite easy and straightforward. Better still, computerization has now been introduced, so Paul’s irritation will decrease in future.

First of all, it’s not just a ‘Blood Bank’, we have seven Regional Blood banks at Arua, Fort Portal, Gulu, Kitovu, Mbale, Mbarara and Nakasero, and six blood collection centers in Hoima, Jinja, Kabale, Rukungiri, Lira and Soroti (says ubts.go.ug). UBTS is the Uganda Blood Transfusion Service, headquartered in Nakasero where the Nakasero Blood Bank stands.

There are pleasant people there trying to do their jobs well, even though the toll free line listed on the website (0800122422) is currently out of service. That’s an opportunity right there for some telecommunications company to offer something right away.

As I dialled their listed land lines (the call attendant could do with some phone etiquette training) I realised that we all need to save the numbers in our phones because one day we might need them (0414259195/0414257155).

Imagine you one day need blood urgently and you are standing in a hospital corridor with panicked relatives all scrolling through phone books for help. Won’t you will feel silly seeing contacts of Rolex guys, mechanics, boda boda men and all the other day-to-day people you find important rather than the lifesavers?

The process, as I said, is quite simple. At Nakasero they have six beds so they can easily handle six people at a time at the drop of a hat, but if many more turn up then they will mobilise more beds and other equipment.

The ladies who handled me were courteous, strict and happy to be of service – insisting that I waited my full ten minutes while resting after I had donated, even though I claimed to be strong enough to up and go.

I liked the way they had decorated their treatment room with bits of Christmas tinsel

The little decorations that made me smile (Photo: Simon Kaheru)
and made a mental note to take them a Christmas gift at the end of the year – may even to all the Blood Banks. Those small gestures also make a difference in a way.

But I also hope for bigger differences in the way we do things as individuals and companies. I hope some restaurants or hotels, for instance, offer special discounts to people who present valid blood donation cards. After we have given blood, one of the items a donor is given is a soda and a biscuit or two (I declined, as I had carried a health drink of my own).

The soda and biscuit companies should wake up to a campaign where we get discounts if we present a valid blood donation card. The t-shirt and merchandising companies can also throw in a few gift items for donors, just to say ‘Thank you and come again!’ to people with valid blood donation cards.

The rest of you can take in a whole load of other things that would make it easier for those hard working people to collect more blood – even those foam squeezy balls that they give the blood donor to squeeze as the blood is flowing out into those bottles:

Strong veins, but focus on that squeezie foam ball for a bit & donate some? (Photo: Simon Kaheru)
I keep saying “valid blood donation card” because the rules say men can donate once every three months and women once every four months. Donating once in your lifetime is certainly NOT enough.

And this blood, as numerous stickers and flyers at the Blood Bank state, is FREE OF CHARGE. Nobody asks you to pay for it.

We can give more than just blood:

You and I can mobilise more people to donate blood; the UBTS Director, Dr. Dorothy Kyeyune, told me that NSSF ran a blood drive last week that collected more than 4,000 units of blood!


we all need to take these avian bird flu warnings seriously


I SPEND most of my mornings seated at a window where a vast number of birds of various species and sizes flitter past or stop and tap against the glass. We have a running joke that some of those birds are carrying messages from our dearly departed living in another world .

Because I have so many birds within close proximity, I took the Avian Bird Flu warnings this week pretty seriously. A friend of mine confessed that the day before the first warning she had picked up a dead bird herself, as she lives in an even busier bird corridor.

Uganda has about 1,078 species of birds (34 of which are threatened) making us a premium destination for birding, as these are more than half the number of species recorded globally. Some statistics also have it that the record for the number of species recorded in one week in a three week period is 665 – seen in Uganda.

Our poultry industry is thriving (not just because of the Rolex) though the best statistics I could find were from the UBOS (Uganda Bureau of Statistics) 2010 Report that estimated our national chicken population at 34.7million birds. A cursory check of the 2014 National Population and Housing Census finds no mention of the words ‘poultry’, ‘chicken’ or ‘bird(s)’. The word ‘Livestock’ appears only four (4) times.

The National Livestock Census Report of 2009, though, says 4.5million households rear at least one kind of livestock or poultry. By 2008 we had a national chicken flock of 32.8million birds.

And an IGAD (Inter-Governmental Authority on Development) report of 2013 estimated that the value of poultry production in Uganda in 2009 was Ushs89billion. (This report also complains about lack of statistics).

So considering that Avian Bird Flu affects chicken as well as wild birds, we should not take this disease outbreak lightly. But we must not panic in our approach.

When it first appeared back in 2005 the Avian Bird Flu was devastating in Asia, and it showed up again in 2014 in the United States with alarming effects. I read somewhere once that across Asia fewer than 500 people died from having the disease, so that’s not the biggest problem – it is the economic death that is more worrying.

In the US by July 2015 (six months) about 26 million chickens and turkeys had died or been killed to keep the disease from spreading. But the US produces 9 billion chickens for meat, 360 million for eggs, and 240 million turkeys.

We cannot afford to lose such numbers.

In May 2015 the United States released US$330million in emergency funds to tackle the disease, on top of US$99million already spent on the disease when it broke out in 2014. They even deployed the National Guard to help with the efforts.

Asia’s 2005 crisis was feared to cost the affected economies between US$99billion and US$283billion off their GDP.

We certainly cannot command such amounts today.

Those economies are much more organised and focused most times, so we need to really pay attention and think like them now in some respects, while doing what we do best.

That doesn’t mean we are doing nothing – and I was happy to hear from the Director General of Health Services, Prof. Anthony Mbonye, that the government had put together an inter-ministerial task force under the Prime Minister’s office (though the Ministry Website had not been updated by January 18, 2017 with this issue). They are working with the same tenacity that has made Uganda globally famous for handling Ebola and other serious pandemics here and as far out as West Africa.

But obviously we need to do more – you and I, as well as the government.

Again, do not panic. In one of my WhatsApp groups some people swore off chicken entirely. Unless you eat unhygienic chicken, please remain calm but be cautious and health-conscious.

Then, let’s think and plan every step of this carefully – including our communication. Our first communication targets should be the people on the frontline of poultry production – farmers (including domestic, subsistence ones) and processors alike. To reach them, we must know who they are – hence the need for serious statistics and information.

Every district should pull out the stops at collecting data on where all our domestic birds are and who is raising them. When we get to the point where poultry have to be killed to stop the disease spreading, there will be a need for compensation – we all know why records are important there.

Now is the time to take all statistics seriously and keep them up to date henceforth. I’ve seen a US Department of Agriculture file on the internet that details every case of the disease along with the individual bird that died – we should have the same from two weeks ago when this crisis began.

And thereafter, let’s put our information up onto the internet so that we give the world even more confidence in our capabilities at handling these disasters; we will have a good story to tell so let’s tell it louder than the disaster announcement.

This Avian Bird Flu is not as bad as Ebola, so we will get past it for sure – but this time let’s do so in a manner that INCREASES our profile so we get more opportunities come our way while not putting our existing ones at risk.

there is NO ZIKA in Uganda

Aedes Aegypti
The Aedes Aegypti – from http://www.outbreaknewstoday.com

THIS Zika virus is pissing me off quite a lot.

The damn thing is causing excitement and concern in Brazil and other Latin American countries, and people have contracted its related diseases in the United Kingdom and the United States.
NO ONE in Uganda has contracted the disease.
In the last 70 (SEVENTY) years there have been TWO (2) people who got the Zika disease in Uganda.
But believe it or not, Uganda has entered into the story. You haven’t noticed yet, but there is already at least one travel advisory that affects us – Ugandans.
THIS has pissed me off, of course, because those less discerning than most will immediately assume that we have Zika viruses floating about in the air over here, and will begin to avoid us. Or they’ll come up with some silly extra airport checks for people who have been to Uganda, or have names similar to ours.
There is no predicting what could happen.
The last time a strange, scary disease broke out in West Africa we had sanctions and cancellations in East Africa. There is 7,000 kilometres of very bad road between Sierra Leone and Uganda, but people in the UK still felt that it was worrying enough for the disease to exist THERE, for them to avoid coming HERE. Sierra Leone is closer to the United States than it is to any East African country, but ignoramuses would still be more scared of coming here than going to the US.
(That statement about distances from Sierra Leone might or might not be true – so go and read up on the continent of Africa a little bit, just to be sure. The one about ignoramuses is true.)
But that’s not what is churning bile into my throat.
The casualness around which people – journalists inclusive – are talking about Uganda in this story is infuriating!
It took just a couple of days for people to misread the Wikipedia statement, “The virus was first isolated in April 1947 from a rhesus macaque monkey that had been placed in a cage in the Zika Forest of Uganda, near Lake Victoria, by the scientists of the Yellow Fever Research Institute.”
Personally, like most of you who haven’t just heard about it from the title of this damn blogpost, I first heard of the Zika virus and the Zika forest about two weeks ago – in that order, separated by a couple of days.
On Monday the World Health Organisation declared Zika an “international public health emergency” and by that time Uganda was on maps labelled ‘Areas with current or past evidence of Zika’ (see http://www.nytimes.com – I won’t be supplying the link).
Within these last two weeks we have had journalists and ‘scientists’ (or science officials) make comments that simply fit into the expected narrative but don’t tell us much that is accurate or even useful.
They could have read the Wikipedia article in full, as well as embedded links therein such as this scientific-looking linkhttp://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2819875/
before launching into the Zika Forest for their stories, but…
Take this story headlined, “Ugandan forest where Zika hides”, complete with a photograph of an old Uganda Virus Research Institute  (UVRI) signpost in front of a patch of grass in what is clearly NOT a forest <—incomprehensible. The height of laziness is in NOT taking a photograph of even a single TREE for an article ABOUT a forest.
That article states with confidence: “Most local cases of the virus were mild, resulting in a rash, fever, and red eyes. Global health authorities barely took notice until an outbreak on the Micronesian island of Yap in 2007.”
Yap is NOT in Uganda. The Micronesian islands are NOT in Uganda. There are NO LOCAL CASES OF ZIKA that the story cites, but that sentence, by-lined by AFP, is on the internet even though in Yap, according to the Wikipedia article on that outbreak, 73% of the island’s population above the age of 3 (three) had recently (by then) contracted the disease!
Later in the story the AFP states, “Uganda’s health ministry is keen to point out that there have been no known cases of the disease in that country, and that the outbreak in the Americas did not originate in East Africa.”
This is because it is true, though the story indicates that it is just a claim.
Why not, “There have been no known cases of the disease in Uganda (in recent years) and the outbreak in the Americas did not originate in East Africa.”?
The reporter could have done some simple research within the Wikipedia article and benefitted from this sentence: “There are two lineages of Zika virus, the African lineage and the Asian lineage.[19] Phylogenetic studies indicate that the virus spreading in the Americas is most closely related to the Asian strain, which circulated in French Polynesia during the 2013 outbreak.”
But the AFP could not be bothered.
And it even closes the story with, “There is no vaccine against Zika, which has spread to over 24 countries in the Americas.” <—the Americas – it has become like Africa. Would you imagine, reading that phrase, that anyone in the United States has contracted a Zika-related disease? Or that anyone in the United Kingdom has one? You think the AFP story would mention even that most amusing detail of how Brian Foy, a biologist from the Colorado State University, in 2009 returned to the US from a trip to Senegal and sexually transmitted Zika on to her?
It doesn’t even mention that SIX (6) cases have been confirmed in the United Kingdom – which detail I have only discovered today! I thought it was three – 3 – until this afternoon of February 2, 2016 when I surfed through various links to get to this one.
See, the text on the discovery of Zika in the UK says things like, “ZIKV does not occur naturally in the UK. However, as of 29 January 2016, a total of 6 cases have been diagnosed in UK travellers.”
Did you notice the use of ‘ZIKV’ there, instead of Zika? That’s deliberate so that you find fewer instances of internet searches linking the word “Zika” to “UK”.
This is from an official government release – and our Ministries of Health, Foreign Affairs and Tourism should take a leaf from this and have all public officials comply; take A LOT OF CARE when making statements about matters sensitive.
The United States’ Centre for Disease Control (CDC) announced that, “No locally transmitted Zika cases have been reported in the continental United States, but cases have been reported in returning travelers.” <—again, distancing themselves as a country from this disease, and suggesting that “only travellers” (which they mis-spelt) have it.
Meanwhile, it would take me (I am too simple) too long to establish how many travellers to the US have actually been diagnosed with the virus, but I bet they are more than Uganda’s ZERO!
The UK reporting also keeps talking about “UK travellers” so that in your mind the disease is never RESIDENT there.
It is RESIDENT elsewhere. Maybe in the ‘Americas’ or Africa – and the same advisory states that travellers should avoid travel to “areas where any mosquito-borne diseases such as chikungunya, dengue, malaria and Zika are known to occur”. <— see? It has started already!
But if anyone tries to cancel a booking to Uganda on the basis of this advisory, then please point them to this link from CNN which states with authority that, “the Aedes albopictus mosquitoes, “which are found throughout the U.S. and are known for transmitting dengue fever and chikungunya, may also transmit the virus, the CDC said Friday.”
So the UK advisory discourages travel to the United States, as much as it discourages travel to Uganda.
The BBC also sent a team to the Zika Forest – where they also met the same guide, poor Gerald Mukisa, who is now quoted everywhere.
The Associated Press report of the same site states that the Zika Forest “is, now fittingly, a research site for scientists…” even though everywhere else on the internet states that it has been a research site since before 1947! <—but that’s a small point, so ignore it.
Or, maybe just to get into the meat of things, it might not be ‘now fittingly’ – the reason they probably chose the Zika forest as they would any other part of the world to conduct such trials back in the early 1900s, might be the availability of specimen such as the monkey.
The longer version of the AFP report, meanwhile, quoted one Julius Lutwama, 56, described as “Top UVRI scientist” who says: “Zika virus has always been a mild infection. Out of say five or 10 people who are infected, only one or two may actually show some fever that is noticeable.” <— WHAT THE HELL?
The BBC text report on the same subject quoted the very same Dr. Julius Lutwama saying that only two cases of the virus have been confirmed in Uganda in the last seven decades. SEVENTY (70) years.
‘This is because the types of mosquitoes that would transmit the virus to humans don’t often come into contact with the general population, says Dr. Julius Lubwama, a leading virologist at the Uganda Virus Research Institute.’ reads the story.
So is it only two people as the BBC quoted Dr. Lutwama saying, or “out of the five or ten people”, as the AFP quoted the very same Dr. Lutwama?
I called up the Uganda Virus Research Institute and was told that there was only one Dr. Lutwama but was told he was out of the country – hopefully in Geneva attending the emergency meetings that resulted in the WHO declaration. I was given his colleagues number, one Dr. John Kayiwa, but he didn’t answer his phone and I had to post my blog so I went on reading, only to find this in the  BBC article:
“But as Dr. John Kayuma, one of the laboratory managers told me, one of the reasons why there are few recorded cases in Uganda could be because not many people have been tested for it. ‘It is possible that there could be several people, or so many people out there with the Zika virus infection, but because many people do not seek treatment in the hospitals, we could be missing out”‘
They don’t stop there.
“‘And also the surveillance has probably not picked them out. There’s a possibility that there are more cases out there.’”
THAT is the kind of comment that has me shaking my damn head.
(Pause for breath).
And the story ends on the dramatic note of: “In the meantime, Dr. Lutwama and his team say they are keeping an eye on the type of mosquitoes in the country in case any of the ones that are good at spreading the disease enter Uganda.”
THIS is the BBC?
They can’t spell Dr. Kayiwa’s name right – so marks off for that.
But then, do you see how the narrative is being kept alive here? That “it is possible” that people have the disease “but they have not been checked?”  We are to think that people are walking about possibly suffering from Zika but they have not been tested for it so cue music of impending doom and sickness?
Quite simply there is NO story here unless someone finds that damn monkey that was the subject of those tests. While looking for it, though, please take in our thousands of other monkeys and apes, the magnificent wildlife, the great scenery and the extremely pleasant hospitality of Ugandans who are so kind we will smile and say what you most likely want to hear just to make you feel at home – sometimes to our own detriment.
At the back of your mind, please be aware that “it is possible” that very many people out there have a cold, or mild forms of malaria, or even cancer, but they have not sought treatment in hospitals.
Brazil is there with 4,000 cases of babies born with microcephaly (the birth defect that the Zika virus is said to cause), the United States has 30 cases, the UK has six, and we are here saying “see Uganda”?
It is these reports that have me looking a little more seriously at bloggers, or what some people call conspiracy theorists, because those ones appear to put more effort into their work.
Like one Jon Rappoport, who blogged last week: ‘Is the dreaded Zika virus another giant scam?’
Rappoport, unlike our international journalists, goes into the science behind the Zika virus, and the tests that would have to be conducted before certain declarations are made, and then even raises links that answer the question, ‘Why did we not know about this between 2007 and 2016?’ (let alone 1947 till now!). Why is it spreading so fast and frenzied in Brazil and Latin America?, and then (read his blog, by the way, rather than wait for me to reproduce it here) the link to pesticide use in Brazil and so on and so forth.
Then there’s sheezacoldpiece, who posted, ‘The Zika Virus – What They’re Not Saying…’, in which the blogger raises a vaccine that the Brazil government introduced in 2014 and says “The recent outbreak of Zika virus in Brazil is now being linked to genetically modified mosquitoes developed by the British biotech company Oxitec, which is funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.”
Leaving the corporate bodies out of it for a while, the blogger raises a point some other people have raised in the comments on Zika – what is the role of science in all this? Even in the 1947 tests, according to this scientific narrative – http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2819875/ – tells you that they were not just walking through a forest and noticed a monkey shivering with an attack of the Zika.
There must be some scientist out there who can decipher for us the meaning of the phrase, “was first isolated”; does that not indicate that there was some clinical laboratory work going on that could have involved placing a sample or something into the monkey in order to study its results?
I am clearly not a scientist.
But also, if, as the bloggers suggest, the microcephaly or Zika disease is a result of additional factors beyond just a thirsty band of mosquitoes then our scientists have lots more work to do than monitoring the borders to ensure that these vectors don’t get in.
Reading https://brazilianshrunkenheadbabies.wordpress.com/about/ you will find a lot of blogger-insight (see links at the bottom of that page) that sensibly argues how the use of medicines or pesticides untested for your area or blood type or genetics can create such alarming results.
As for the journalists, we have even more work to do so that we are more convincing than the bloggers and conspiracy theorists; if we can’t even spell a name right when covering such an ‘important’ story, how the hell are we expected to be believed on the science?

a tippy tap tale seeking engineers and designers

A COUPLE of weeks ago I amused a group of schoolchildren at Katosi, on the shores of Lake Victoria in the Mukono area, when I broke away from the main event to walk round their little school taking

Katosi Church of Uganda Primary School - Photo by Simon Kaheru
Katosi Church of Uganda Primary School – Photo by Simon Kaheru


I ended up in the corner of the school at the elevated latrines and paid those a quick visit, which got them chittering and pointing fingers at me.
When I stepped out of the latrine cubicle I found a small crowd waiting to see the spectacle, and though they didn’t give me a round of applause, I descended like a performer getting onto a stage.
Little did I know that I was slated to put on a little performance.
Having noticed a sign on the wall that instructed us to wash our hands after using the toilet, I expected to find a receptacle or something for water and some soap on hand as soon as I walked out of the latrine. There was none.
I was flabbergasted and disappointed. I had hoped that this poor school in rural Uganda was walking the talk. The entire village is highly susceptible to water-borne diseases the experts now refer to as NTDs (Neglected Tropical Diseases), and was the target of some serious programmes run by the Ministry of Health, USAID and RTI International.
The programmes they run are simple but highly effective. Just by getting children to take their preventive medicines seriously, parents to use mosquito nets as mosquito nets rather than as fishing nets, and everyone to use soap as often as possible, the entire community benefits in a massive way. Children spend more time in school, and therefore learn more; more of them therefore end up advancing to higher education, and the economy overall improves because they go out to do more than join the fishing or attendant trades.
The children gathered outside the latrine realised what my problem was, and pointed at a contraption that I had seen but failed to figure out as I walked past it to the latrines.
The initially confounding contraption
It was a wooden stand of poles set at four angles forming a square, with some 3-litre jerrycans tied to a wire going round the top. The jerry cans were recycled from used vegetable oil ones – as well do in our homes – and most of them contained a little water.
What puzzled me was a string tied to each jerry can, that was linked to a piece of wood hanging down to the floor. One child, eventually identified as Joshua, stepped forward to free me of my conundrum, and pointed at one jerry can, then the stick.
I had already seen them, but did not wish to be rude, so I leaned forward and tipped the jerry can with one hand to wash the other, but before switching he shouted, “No!” and gave me a demonstration that almost blew my mind.
The way it works is that you step on the stick with one foot (you can’t use both), which action pulls onto the string and tips the jerry can downwards to pour water out for you (or the children) to wash hands.
To complicate matters a little bit, the jerry can I used had a couple of holes punched into it near its mouth top, which made for a nice trickle from the perforation. But the water quickly gushed out after that through the top of the jerry can.
The children were pleased at how surprised I was, and laughed quite a lot as I made them demonstrate again and again. On Twitter, I asked if anyone could work it out from the photograph and found that some people knew about this system – called the ‘Tippy Tap’.
I haven’t checked to find out where it was invented or who by. It is just amazing. A water delivery system made only from local and recycled materials.
I’ve built a house before and know quite well how expensive it is to get all the plumbing into place and running fine, but the next house I am involved in will definitely benefit from the tippy tap though in an advanced form.
There must be an engineer in Uganda who can make some improvements to the system so that we can adopt it in homes both urban and rural. By just putting a cover onto the small jerry can, for instance, one can use less water to wash one’s hands. Now if an engineer worked at combining a rain water catchment system with a series of filters and some tippy tap for the showers and basins, the imagination boggles!