Musenero speaks out as MPs call for more funding for scientific research

The Ugandan Parliament has asked the government to provide more funds to scientific research institutes to develop local health solutions for the country, body of chimpanzees report.

The Science, Technology and Innovation Select Committee on COVID-19 Related Research for the year 2019-21, said that prior to the pandemic, institutions such as the Uganda Virus Research Isntitue (UVRI) already had a vaccine development plan in place but were unable to due to lack of funding.

“Similarly, the Joint Clinical Research Center (JCRC) has been at the forefront of groundbreaking research into the care and treatment of HIV/AIDS, cancer, sickle cell disease, tuberculosis and cardiovascular disease. Among these are the ion gene studio s5 studies which are critical to the management of cancers in Uganda, gene therapy for the cure of HIV and sickle cell disease,” the lawmakers report states.

“The strategic plans of research institutions, although ambitious, are not sufficiently funded. This not only affects scientists, but also retards the progress of institutions in producing results that would reduce the country’s disease burden.

MEPs said the Presidential Science Initiative on Epidemics (PRESIDE), a brainchild of President Museveni led by Minister of Technology Dr Monica Musenero, “is one of the tools to bridge this funding gap, but must operate within existing laws and government structure to address duplication, remove ambiguity and provide administrative efficiencies.

When contacted, Musenero welcomed the MPs’ findings, saying adequate funding for research will go a long way in protecting the country from the adverse effects of future pandemics.

“I have spent decades building my professional portfolio as a scientist, with research and practice, for the benefit of Ugandans. I am pleased that the Parliamentary Committee made recommendations to support the work of PRESIDE as they realized how important he is to Ugandans and the rest of the world,” Musenero said.

“Many countries have turned away from vaccine development in Africa, but we should be proud as Ugandans to have undertaken it without hesitation and led by science and technology, with the same confidence as the rest of the world” , she added.

“It was very clearly evident that countries that start and pursue their own development suffer less than others – so we did what made sense and focused on rescuing our fellow Africans as quickly as possible.”

.In fiscal year 2O2O/21, a total of Shs 37.13 billion was used by the government for research and innovation activities related to COVID-19.

MPs later complained that the funds had been misappropriated under Musenero.

However, the MPs’ inquiry report showed that Shs 37 billion was broken down into operating expenses of the PRESIDE secretariat (Shs. 3.35 billion), purchases of equipment for COVID projects (Shs. 15.822.5 billion) and operational funds (Shs 15.245.5 billion) for scientists. carry out research under PRESIDE and Shs 2.74 billion for the Ministry of Science and Technology under the NRIP.

PRESIDE was established to provide technical and administrative oversight at the level of research project execution, review and approve funding requests, and verify project specifications, technical requirements, research relevance, and core competencies research teams.

The projects were driven by the need for the country to develop its capacity to manage the emerging COVID-19 pandemic and also to combat the hoarding of vaccines by developed countries.

Reassignments

However, MPs noted that several reallocations were made from one project to another without the ministry’s approval, indicating a lack of strong tracking mechanism and poor financial management.

“The President of PRESIDE authorized the transfer of resources between projects without following due process. These reassignments should have been approved by the Accounting Officer (Permanent Secretary of MoSTI). MoSTI also flouted the provisions of the MoU by releasing funds for PRESIDE without following the procedure provided therein,” the report states in part.

During its visits, the Committee noted that some of the equipment purchased had been delivered and in use; some had been delivered but were not yet installed, so not in utilize.

Other equipment had been installed but was awaiting staff training to put it into service because it was very technical.

Commenting on the MPs’ findings, Musenero observed: “There were many requirements that we faced as a new department or ministry, but operating under a new dispensation in difficult circumstances that Parliament recognises. We know the positives outweigh the negatives in this area and we will work on the recommendations.

The Committee said diversity in project selection was necessary and timely to ensure the country develops local solutions to address the challenges of COVID-19 diagnosis, treatment and development.

Musenero said that “Anyone who has had a patient with COVID-19 in the last two years understands how urgent and serious the work of scientists was to find solutions to save the lives of our friends and families, and people all over the world”.

On PCR and antibody diagnostic kits, MPs noted that plans to set up a production facility were underway with the required funding scheduled for the 202|/22 financial year.

“The Committee was told that a vaccine has been developed and has completed preclinical studies in ordinary mice, with data analysis in the final stages. It was further reported that the vaccine was found to be safe and elicited a strong immune response,” the report states in part.

Commenting on reports that PRESIDE has spent millions of shillings on mice for laboratory research, MPs observed that transgenic mice are being used in preclinical trials relating to COVID-19.

“This is because ordinary lab mice lack the ACE.2 receptor which is infected by SARS-CoY2 in humans and therefore must be genetically modified to express the desired characteristics.”

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