From local to global
International Animal Health graduate, Charles Noki discusses his experiences of the 2007/08 outbreak of Ebola in Uganda and shares his thoughts on the current crisis in West Africa.
Charles Noki is the District Veterinary Officer for Alebtong District in Northern Uganda. It is just to the east of Lira District where has was born in 1969 as the fifth in a family of 10 children.
Distance is no barrier
Encouraged to study science by his magistrate father, Charles first attended Makerere University Kampala, Uganda and qualified as a veterinary surgeon in 1995.
After successfully applying for a Commonwealth Scholarship, which paid for all tuition fees, he was able to embark on Edinburgh’s International Animal Health MSc programme, which is a three year part-time course delivered online.
The programme is affiliated with the University's Global Health Academy.
The programme design of International Animal Health is quite an elaborate one. It prepares graduates for a variety of tasks ranging from project design to disease outbreak investigations.
Controlling the spread of disease
The impact of the MSc was almost immediate as Charles was promoted within a year to the post of senior veterinary officer, a position that he still holds.
Perhaps most importantly however, it provided him with the knowledge and expertise to become involved with the Ebola outbreak intervention in Bundibugyo, Uganda in 2007/08, as part of the disease surveillance team under the auspices of the Ministry of Health and the World Health Organization.
Ebola, in common with avian influenza, swine influenza, Crimean-Congo haemorrhagic fever and BSE, is a zoonotic disease and so the role of animal health specialists is essential in the fight to control epidemics.
Charles outlines what control means in this context, emphasising the need for a multi-disciplinary approach.
Control means stopping further transmission of the disease, isolating and treating the clinically sick, actively searching for new cases, tracing contacts, promptly reporting suspicious cases, community education, and reporting progress on a daily basis.
Out of control?
The western media is currently filled with stories depicting the current Ebola outbreak as
out of control and recent reports have taken it a step further suggesting that the number of reported cases and deaths vastly underestimate the scale of the outbreak.
Charles admits that this might not be far from the truth with the number of new cases being registered still high despite large-scale intervention, and that there is still a long way to go.
I was listening to the BBC a few days ago that relatives of dead victims were exhuming the bodies in the pretext that they were going to give them a decent send off. This means the community is not really very well aware of the dangers associated with handling dead bodies.
Despite this bleak assessment Charles is still positive that the work that is being done will have an impact, that progress is being made and that education, whether by the community or health professionals, is central to this progress.