Mukasa Sirajeh Katantazi
On 11 April 2020, Robert Mijumbi, a budding biotechnologist and C.E.O of Biobert Research Group, uploaded a video on YouTube claiming to have made a major breakthrough in the cure for Covid-19.
The video went viral on Ugandan social media and caught the attention of the National Drug Authority (NDA) which ordered his arrest claiming he had no credible laboratory.
The arrest was preceded by a lengthy letter by Dr Samuel Opio, the secretary of Pharmaceutical Society of Uganda disproving Mijumbi’s ability to create a cure especially since he claimed it was administered intravenously as this would require a controlled environment.
These events reminded me of the run ins between the late Prof. Charles Lwanga Ssali and the Government over the mariandina drug which he claimed cured HIV.
The good professor had previously successfully discovered treatment for atrophic rhinitis and of laryngo tracheo-bronchitis.
The later feat earning him his professorial credentials.
The mariandina drug was patented in the UK and when he refused to share the secrets of his formula, the Ugandan government banned his drug.
This did not however stop people from visiting and using his drugs.
The good gentleman must have died a frustrated man.
These two examples illustrate the fate of many Ugandan scientists and the hurdles that they must overcome to have their works and findings recognized.
There are many herbalists dotted across the country whose works have brought temporary but much needed reliefs to many people suffering with a plethora of ailments. I do recognize that are many conmen that are fleecing the unsuspecting public desperately seeking for cures to their suffering. Remember the reflexology craze?
However, regulation must not be used as a sword but rather as a shield for researchers.
The modern trend is to create an environment in which scientists can experiment without fear of reprisals. Scientific research by its very nature is trial and error with a heavy inclination skewed towards error.
It is stated that when a reporter asked the famous inventor Thomas Edison how it felt to fail 1,000 times, Edison replied, “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.”
The emergence of the novel coronavirus has seen unprecedented calls for proposals for research or innovation with a clear impact pathway that has the potential to deliver a significant contribution to the understanding of, and response to, the C19 pandemic and its impacts.
The Ministry of ICT and National Guidance announced an emergency call for people to tender in proposals for digital innovations that will aid the prevention of C19.
The Islamic Development Bank (IsDB) setup a $500m Transform Fund to support pioneering ideas in the fight against C19 amongst its member states.
Uganda as a member country and its scientists stand to benefit and therefore young scientists like Mijumbi should encouraged to write proposal to attract funding so that their research can be actualized instead of being arrested.
The European Commission has allocated 48.5 million Euros for research projects within Horizon 2020, the EU’s framework programme for funding research. Researchers are from within the EU and beyond.
The C19 virus continues to defy conventional approaches as countries are working collaboratively on improving preparedness and response to outbreaks by developing better monitoring systems to prevent and control the spread of the virus, rapid point-of-care diagnostic tests, enabling quicker and more accurate diagnosis, new treatments and developing new vaccines.
The race is on and the first person and country to make a breakthrough will gain enormously.
By the way it reminds me of Speaker Rebecca Kadaga’s claims that Prof. Safraz K Niaz, a U.S ‘inventor’ was to partner with a local company to produce a disinfectant that kills the virus before retracting her statement claiming she was misquoted.
The last time I read about her, she had gotten embroiled in the Shs 10 billion cash bonanza to MPs. A strange world this is!