Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) is caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus-2 (SARS-CoV-2) virus, first reported in early December 2019 in Wuhan China and has since spread across all continents with over 21 million cases reported and more than 700,000 deaths recorded. The first case of COVID-19 in Uganda was reported on 21st March, 2020 and as of today they are over 5000 cases reported and over 50 deaths recorded.
Currently there are no vaccines available for COVID-19, and treatments are only starting to emerge. There is emerging evidence to support use of Convalescent Plasma (CCP) for treatment of COVID-19 especially among severe and critical patients.
Plasma is the straw colored liquid portion of blood that remains after red blood cells, white blood cells, platelets and other cellular components of blood are removed. CCP is plasma from individuals who have fully recovered from an infection, and this plasma contains antibodies against that infection, in this case the COVID-19 infection.
Wednesday September 16th 2020 was yet another day of great achievement to Makerere University in Kampala Uganda. It is on this day when Uganda’s Minister of Health Hon. Dr. Jane Ruth Aceng launched the Uganda Coronavirus Convalescent Plasma Investigational New Drug. This was at Makerere University’s Main Hall.
Prof. William Bazeyo, the session chair also the Principal Investigator of the project gave welcome remarks on behalf of Makerere University’s Vice Chancellor thanking the government of the Republic of Uganda for funding this project and several others (now totaling to over 500 multidisciplinary projects) through Makerere University Research and Innovations Fund (MAK-RIF) https://rif.mak.ac.ug/ .
He also thanked Uganda’s Minister of Health Hon. Dr. Jane Ruth Aceng Ocero who graced the occasion as Chief Guest for the continued support from the ministry. He ended by assuring the Hon. Minister that Makerere University Medical School is really working hard to finally become number one in Africa after being ranked second for so long and this was possible with more support from the government of the Republic of Uganda.
Dr. Bruce Kirenga the Director Makerere University Lung Institute, the other Principal Investigator of this project said despite evidence of possible efficacy of COVID CCP in treatment of COVID-19, very few African countries have undertaken the collection and processing of COVID CCP. He further said that the aim of this project was to assess the feasibility of collecting, processing and storing of COVID CCP for treatment of COVID-19 in Uganda. He emphasized the need to collaborate and collate all the related scientific facts throughout the collection, processing and storage of Convalescent Plasma.
The team approached COVID-19 recovered individuals who had been managed and discharged at the treatment centers across the country, the donors needed to provide written informed consent, have documented evidence of SARS-CoV-2 infection by PCR, have documented evidence of full recovery from COVID-19, be at least 18 years and meet all criteria for blood donation set by Uganda National Blood Transfusion Services in order to be eligible.
Dr. Bruce Kirenga said of the 186 who came to the donation center, 162 qualified to donate. The donors were received from all regions of Uganda except Karamoja that had not registered an infection by then. The median age of the donors was 33 years and 3.7% were females. A significant finding was that all the samples donated had enough antibodies to warrant use in treatment of COVID-19 patients and the plasma currently available can only be administered to 65 patients.
As she addressed the relatively few participants in Makerere University’s Main Hall, Uganda’s Minister of Health, Dr. Jane Ruth Aceng Ocero gave the greenlight to the scientists to commence (with immediate effect) the treatment trials of COVID CCP on COVID-19 patients as she thanked the scientists for the innovation. She asked ‘Can you dear scientists embark on the treatment trials tomorrow?’ All participants loudly clapped positively receiving and responding to this question from the Honorable Minister.
Dr. Aceng appealed to the general public to continue observing the COVID-19 Standard Operating Procedures as scientists continue to innovate, find treatment and cure for the deadly virus. She said that the country had reached phase 4 of the pandemic and the virus was now killing 2-3 people a day on average. This she noted was/ is wide spread community transmission of COVID-19 meaning that the spread can no longer be controlled but can only be mitigated. She emphasized that COVID-19 in Uganda is real so anything proven that can be done to save life is highly welcome and appreciated.
The project was conducted by the COVIDRES-Uganda Research group; a multi-disciplinary research group coordinated by the Makerere University Lung Institute (MLI). The other partners of the project are ; Uganda People’s Defense Forces Medical Services, Makerere University College of Health Sciences-Department of Medicine, Mulago National Referral Hospital , Joint Clinical Research Center and Uganda Blood Transfusion Services. The team is now quickly getting ready to embark on the treatment clinical trials.
Project details are shared and accessible here.