The Yellow Fever Research Institute in Uganda was founded by the International Health Division of the Rockefeller Foundation and the UK Government's Colonial Office towards the end of 1936, and worked in close co-operation with the Medical Department of Uganda. It was agreed that Western Uganda would be a suitable area for a long term investigation into the epidemiology of Yellow Fever after a preliminary survey by Dr Alexander F Mahaffy of the Rockefeller Foundation, and laboratory facilities were made available in the former Human Trypanosomiasis Institute, Entebbe (previously established in 1931). Mahaffy initially appointed three research workers to support him, however, to cope with the increasing workload others were appointed over time, either from the Uganda Government Medical Department, or by the UK's Secretary of State for the Colonies.
In his the introduction to the East African Virus Research Institute Annual Report for 1957-58, Haddow succinctly summarised the work of the Institute to date (for the full text see GB 248 DC 068/4/2/3 pp 1-2).
The Institute was opened in 1936 by the International Health Division of the Rockefeller Foundation with support from the Territorial Governments, and was named the Yellow Fever Research Institute. The first Director was Dr A F Mahaffy, C.M.G. The main object was to ascertain whether or not yellow fever virus was active in East Africa, and, if so, whether it was spreading actively. An important part of the program was to assess the possible danger of the virus spreading to India and the Far East, and the other main objective was to elucidate its local epidemiology.
During the next fourteen years this work formed the main part of the program. It was established that the virus is widely distributed in East Africa and that in some areas it affects man. It was shown that it occurs in uninhabited forest, monkeys being the animal host, and that the monkey disease is transmitted by an arboreal mosquito,Aëdes africanus. The human disease is transmitted by another mosquito, Aëdes simpsoni, which picks up the virus from raiding monkeys in banana plantations and passes it on to man. While this cycle was being worked out extensive studies on the mosquito vectors and on the known and potential mammalian hosts were undertaken, and work of this nature has remained an important part of the subsequent program.
Much of this work was carried out from the Yellow Fever Field Station in Bwamba County, which lies in the densely forested Semliki Valley. Later, studies were made in other forests and, since the East Africa High Commission took over in 1950, in dry areas and semi-desert country. It has been established that yellow fever virus is active in such environments also, the main mammalian hosts being small lemuroids of the genus Galago (bush babies). The arthropod vectors in dry country are not yet known.
During these studies, previously unknown viruses were isolated, some of which have subsequently proved to be of considerable importance. These viruses were West Nile, Bwamba fever, Semliki Forest (SFV), Ntaya, Bunyamwera, Uganda S and Zika. Among previously known viruses isolated and studied in the same period were those of Rift Valley fever (RVF) and encephalomyocarditis, Mengo strain (EMC). While a great deal of work was carried out on some of these viruses, yellow fever remained the main preoccupation till 1950, when the East Africa High Commission took over.
The Institute now became the Virus Research Institute, Entebbe, this name later being changed to the East African Virus Research Institute. The field was immediately broadened but the approach remained the same, being basically concerned with attempts to isolate viruses from man, animals and mosquitoes, and the general approach to the work being epidemiological and ecological. The main subject of study continued to be the Arthropod-borne (Arbor) viruses and more particularly the mosquito-borne group. The Institute is particularly interested in the Arbor virus zoonoses, where animals and man both act as mammalian hosts of a single virus infection. Work on yellow fever continues, but on a much reduced scale, and it has been necessary, on account of financial stringency, to close the well-known Bwamba Field Station.
During this period an increasingly active attack has been made on the problem of minor fevers in the African, with the object of trying to find what proportion of these are caused by virus infections. This has been a difficult field, as it is not easy to induce the local Africans to give blood samples. Misrepresentation of the Institute's aims and activities (apparently for political ends) has been the main cause of difficulty, but this is it seems gradually being overcome, and it has been possible to operate an out-patients' dispensary at the Institute, the turnover being now in the order of a thousand patients per month. The first success has just been met, a strain of the important Chikungunya virus having been isolated from a patient.
Since the Rockefeller Foundation left there have been further virus isolations as follows: Chikungunya (CHK), a hitherto unknown virus, was isolated from man and mosquitoes during a severe outbreak in Tanganyika. This virus has since been isolated from man and mosquitoes in Uganda also (and by another team in the Union of South Africa). It is a highly important pathogen, and is a member of a group which is probably pan-tropical. Another important isolation has been that of an apparently aberrant strain of RVF from mosquitoes (the Lunyo strain) and there have also been isolations of Rift Valley fever virus from man.
As part of her Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council Doctoral Training internship with Archives & Special Collections, Eleanor Tiplady wrote a report on Haddow's papers with relation to the Zika virus highlighting important texts from GB 248 DC 068/4/1/1-2; GB 248 DC 068/4/2/2; and GB 248 DC 068/4/3/1-3.