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Opening speech of the First Medical and Veterinary Virology Symposium in Kenya.

By Dr. Wallace Bulimo, Chief Virologist; The National Influenza Center

Dr.BulimoLadies and Gentlemen;

Today I am very privileged to have the honor to welcome all of you to the first ever Medical and Veterinary virology symposium in Kenya.On this day, we have among usexperienced scientists, as well as early-stage scientists and other stakeholders from all over Kenya and beyond.They are from the Kenyan coast (Kilifi), Western Kenya (Kisumu, Kericho, Eldoret), central Kenya (Nairobi), from within the east African region (Uganda) and outside of Africa (USA!).The overwhelming response and enthusiasm we have received from all over is very encouraging and underscores the need for a forum like this one. Gathered here are experts with diverseinterestsin medical and veterinary virology.This is awesome and in the next two days, you will indeed be treated to an in-depth showcase of the amount and diversity of virology research that is taking place in this country.

In order to tackle the task before us in the next two days, we have a program that is organized into oral and poster presentations in 10 thematic sessions: These include sessions on Arbovirology, Arboviruses and VHF, Enteroviruses, Epidemiology and Control of Human Viral Infections, Viral Zoonotics, Human Respiratory viruses, Sexually Transmitted viruses, Important Animal Viruses, Oncogenic viruses, Emerging and Re-emerging viruses, Viral Genomics and Bioinformatics.

Origin of the symposium:

Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to expound a little on the origin of this symposium.
From informal discussions with Professor James Nokes of KEMRI Welcome Trust it became obvious that viral infections play a significant role in both human and other animal health in Kenya and regionally. We noted that many viruses that cause disease in humans and livestock, including RVFV, NSDV, Thogoto virus, EBV, chikungunya, Onyong'nyong', Ebola, CHF etc were discovered or originated and are endemic in East Africa. In fact there are 77 arboviruses that are known to originate from this region. Yet, despite the great burden caused by illnesses due to viruses, Kenya and the African region in general have a dearth of qualified virologists to drive the understanding of the viruses and the diseases they cause.

The whole of the East African Region may not be having more than 10 PhD-qualified virologists. That notwithstanding, a quick online search for universities or institutions of higher learning that offer degree courses in virology in Africa shows that there are only three universities, all in South Africa. These are the University of the Witwatersrand Department of Virology, University of Cape Town Department of Medical Microbiology and University of Stellenbosch Microbiology Department. This calls for urgent measures to plan and implement training programs at the university level to mainstream the teaching of virology in the region. Such programs will underpin research into and understanding of viruses that are so prevalent on the African continent.

Despite these limitations, a considerable amount of research and surveillance on respiratory, enteric, arthropod-borne, zoonotic and sexually transmitted viruses is ongoing in Kenya. However, there is to-date limited interaction and communication in Kenya or within the region between research groups involved in medical and veterinary virus research, young scientists in these fields also work in a degree of isolation at present. However, the interaction of humans, animals and the environment coupled with cross-species transmission of viruses makes medical and veterinary virus research inextricably interconnected. It has been reported that of the 1,461 diseases now recognized in humans, 60% - 80% are due to multi-host pathogens that affect multiple species a significant proportion of which are virus borne.

Any endeavor therefore to understand these viruses require a collaborative approach. The 1st symposium was thus envisioned to bring together researchers currently engaged in virus research in the medical and veterinary fields to share their findings and experiences.This symposium has been made possible by collaboration between KEMRI, KEMRI WelcomeTrust, CDC and the Walter Reed project.


Poster sessions

We will have four poster sessions over the two days; one session in the morning and the other in the afternoon.We encourage everybody to view the posters during the tea and lunch breaks and expect that the presenters will be available to answer questions or make clarifications to the participants at those times.

Time Keeping

We have a very packed schedule for oral presentations.To be able to give everyone a chance to present, we will have a very tight -reign on time keeping.This is critical and we request presenters to keep to the time allocated. We will require the chairs of the sessions in consultation with their time keepers to enforce this.

Finally, as we go through the symposium, I would like to request participants to give some thought about the future of virology in Kenya.At the end of the second day we will have a session where this will be discussed in detailand some decisions adopted.
Once again, ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the first Medical and Veterinary Virology symposium in Kenya.