By Agaba Amoni
The government of Uganda has bumped up investments in science in a bid to boost economic growth.
Investments have included the establishment of regional science parks, technology incubation hubs and a US$140 million scientific research and innovation fund. The country as guided by the President is also looking to pay scientists more to stop the brain drain that occurs when highly educated people leave in search of better opportunities.
A Ugandan scientist typically earns around sh5.55 million [US$1,549] per month. President Yoweri Museveni recently proposed raising the monthly salaries of government scientists to sh4million [US$1,126] when they join public service, while top scientists in the country’s premier research institutions would earn sh15 million [US$4,222].
Uganda’s investments in its science sector are already paying off. Two Ugandan researchers working under the auspices of the Presidential Scientific Initiative on Epidemics Prof. Patrick Ogwang, a member of the Pharmaceutical Society of Uganda who has in the past carried out groundbreaking research on anti-malaria and sickle cell remedies for Africa, and Dr. Alice Lamwaka, a Gulu University lecturer — have developed two herbal therapeutics that treat COVID-19.
The therapeutics, which go by the trade names Covidex and Covilyce, have been approved by Uganda’s National Drug Authority. They’re sparking interest in Kenya and Tanzania, as well as among Ugandans, many of whom are yet to be vaccinated against COVID.
Just 1.16 million people in Uganda, an East African country of 45 million, have gotten the vaccine, which is in short supply in much of Africa. That accounts for just 2.2 percent of Uganda’s population, according to the latest Africa CDC statistics. Still, that’s higher than the 1.75 percent of the continent’s population considered fully vaccinated.
“The recent lifting of the 42-day lockdown was partly attributable to a fall in cases, but the country is not yet out of the woods. Increased vaccinations are the way to go,” said Dr. Misaki Wayengera, one of Uganda’s leading health experts.
In recent months, prominent Africans such as South Africa President Cyril Ramaphosa, Rwanda President Paul Kagame, World Trade Organization Director-General Ngozi Okonjo Lweala, Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC) Director Dr. John Nkengasong, WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesu, Kenya President Uhuru Kenyatta and Uganda President Yoweri Museveni have all blamed the continent’s low vaccination rate on the vaccine nationalism practiced by developed nations. Museveni noted that Africa’s scientists are taking a homegrown approach to bridge the gap.
“Our scientists have been working on therapeutics and also on a vaccine,” Museveni said. “On the vaccine front, we are moving very well, only that we were delayed with the perception that Africa is not supposed to manufacture vaccines. With the vaccine, we have got to phase four out of nine phases. We hope to get to stage eight by November 2021.”
Though Uganda is now putting money behind its pledge to support its scientists to further research and product development and has earmarked sh358 billion [US$100 million] in its 2021/22 budget, the African continent as a whole lag in funding science.
Recently there have been views from the academic and research community, reported that Africa’s research and development funding was only 0.42 percent of GDP in 2019, compared to the global average of 1.7 percent. No country in Africa is spending even 1 percent of its gross domestic product on research and development, according to a recent UNESCO science report.