By Nasser Kasozi Akandwanaho
The Minister of Science Technology and Innovation in the Office of the President (ST&I OP), Dr. Monica Musenero, has on Thursday released a detailed accountability on how shillings 28bn given to her sector for the development of local covid-19 vaccines and how it was used by scientists.
This is after one Member of Parliament made allegations on the floor of parliament that the money released by government was not properly accounted for.
The Homeland hereby publishes statement by Dr. Monica Musenero whom President Yoweri Museveni has defended and said she is a decorated scientist who should be respected and supported in her efforts to find scientific solutions for local problems.
The COVID pandemic exposed a lot of dangers of over reliance on importation of epidemic and pandemic response solutions. We could not access diagnostic kits, sanitizer, gloves and protective wear for our health workers as the virus approached. This situation of vulnerability is what prompted His Excellency to say ‘…enough is enough…we cannot live in perpetual dependence of others we must start doing something…’
Uganda’s vulnerability was further exposed when the developed nations initially hoarded the COVID-19 vaccines in what has come to be known as ‘Covid-nationalism’ or to put it in the words the Director General of World Health Organization (WHO) ‘…Vaccine nationalism and hoarding is putting us all at risk…’
Science shows that COVID-19 vaccination is likely to be a Public Health requirement on the human vaccination calendar just like Polio, yellow Fever, measles etc. Vaccines will need continuous upgrading as variants change. Countries that are not self-reliant stand a risk of becoming dumping grounds for obsolete vaccines or worse still we could end up in an endless struggle to contain the virus while other countries are free of it.
Africa is the biggest consumer of vaccines due to high number of disease outbreaks. On 12th April 2020, the African Union made case for local Vaccine development and Manufacturing. Currently 99% of vaccines consumed in Africa are imported. There is need for Uganda to build her own national capacity to produce vaccines.
The only way we shall cost-effectively vaccinate all the Ugandans, and cater for the booster doses required in the future, as well as reduce vulnerability of our Nation to other countries that have already built their capacity to produce vaccines is to support our scientists to use their distinguished intellectual experience to create our capacity as a country to produce its own vaccines.
Ugandan scientists have distinguished themselves in handling pandemics and research on the global stage. Many have participated in vaccine research but the absence of a domestic support system made it difficult for them to develop this technology for our nation.
Covid-19 response activities have been ongoing in the country since March 2020. As part of the strategic interventions, His Excellency, directed the Prime Minister to work with Dr. Musenero to set up a platform to fast-track local research and development to generate products to enable the country to cope with the current and future health security needs.
His Excellency’s directive to set up a platform to fast-track local research and development was aimed at harnessing the scientific potential of the country for industrialization and positioning Uganda as an exporter of Epidemic Response products to the region and beyond.
His Excellency setup the Presidential Scientific Initiative on Epidemics (PRESIDE) to develop the capacity of our very experienced scientists working in government institutions and other established bodies to develop capacity to create vaccines in Uganda.
Presidential Scientific Initiative on Epidemics (PRESIDE) is a government program under State House that functions as a Scientific Think Tank, networking platform and as a mechanism for funding priority scientific research and Development projects.
Presidential Scientific Initiative on Epidemics (PRESIDE), a government program under State House, was set up to address some of the unfavorable situations Uganda found itself in at the onset of Covid-19. PRESIDE also addresses the critical need to mobilize scientists towards innovating home-grown solutions.
In April 2020, through an intensive process of Think Tanking, Hackathons and scientific reviews, 23 priority projects were selected for inclusion in a year plan for development of COVID-19 Vaccines, Diagnostics and Therapeutics. These projects were curated from some of the applicants who had responded to a call from Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation. This process took over 6 months as we built the understanding and refining of the projects. The First batch of funding for operational costs for the first set of projects was availed to scientists in September 2020.
Out of the 23 projects for development of COVID-19 Vaccines, Diagnostics and Therapeutics, 4 were targeting COVID-19 Vaccine Development. The domestic development of C19 Vaccines is premised on the understanding that vaccines will be required for generations beyond the initial number required to open the economy for booster doses as well as those under 18 and newborns in future. Local production of vaccines will save the economy money and create employment in the value chain.
The Methodology for Vaccine Development that is being followed can be categorized into 10 steps:
- Screening and isolating viruses from patients
- Growing and preparing stocks of the necessary cells
- Growing large stocks of the isolated virus
- Quantifying the amount of virus stocks
- Inactivating the virus
- Cleaning and purification of the product
- Animal trials to assess safety and immunogenicity
- Clinical trials in humans to assess safety and immunogenicity
- Regulatory approval
- Mass production (Commercial Manufacturing)
Three (3) of our locally developed vaccine candidates have progressed through Steps 4, 5 and 7 respectively. This clearly demonstrates that if we are determined we can overcome our chronic dependence and also turn these threats into an economy.
UGX 31Bn was budgeted under the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation to support the development of COVID-19 Vaccines, Diagnostics and Therapeutics.
Of this budget, UGX 28.97Bn was released directly to the academic and research institutions working on the approved project and were utilized as follows:
It is estimated that we need 475Bn for purchase of 18 million doses to vaccinate 9 million Ugandans.
Uganda has persons with sufficient intellectual capacity and skill to produce vaccines, it is our duty to support them in this nationalistic duty to develop the capacity of our locally developed vaccines.
Uganda is also building local capacity to produce some of these inputs needed in the Vaccine value chain to mitigate challenges of some suppliers not willing to provide these inputs to African nations.
Uganda is on the right track with the leadership of the Decorated Officer of the Scientific Community of Uganda, Hon. Dr. Monica Musenero to develop and produce vaccines, diagnostics and therapeutics through the groundbreaking program supported by Government under the visionary leadership of HE. the President of Uganda.