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Makerere Frustrated As Medics Ignore Local Innovations In COVID-19 Fight

Makerere University Vice-Chancellor Prof. Barnabas Nawangwe (pictured) has expressed disgust over the continued non-use of their innovations despite the need in the country.

Picking on the low–cost medical ventilator that researchers studied early into the COVID-19 pandemic before the country was hit hard in the just ended spike, Nawangwe said the promising innovation has been a great disappointment adding that he is amused how healthcare managers chose to go for imported ventilators and abandoned a promising project.

It was hoped that the portable ventilator would be installed in ambulances, intensive care units (ICUs) in hospitals and other settings, to help the country deal with a shortage of ventilators during the management of COVID-19 cases.

While it costs about USD 15,000 to purchase a ventilator, researchers said the new innovation would cost around USD 5,000.  Nawangwe says that after a protracted push, the government is only waking up to offer additional support to take the product through clinical trials when there are already lost opportunities.

He mentions that the United Nations Technology Bank in Turkey had wanted to support the researchers but Uganda said they were too busy to take on the project. 

He said this on Tuesday afternoon as the University launched the third round research awards under the Makerere University Research and Innovations Fund (RIF), where up to 123 projects will be funded in different key areas including agriculture, health, education and others that have been highlighted as drivers for economic development.

The government has so far disbursed 10 billion Shillings for the projects of the 30 billion Shillings annual budget for research. A total of 710 projects have since been funded since the fund was launched three years ago by President Museveni to advance research in order for the country to make evidence-based decisions.

Some 587 research projects that have benefited from this money are still ongoing, according to Prof. William Bazeyo who heads the fund. Noting that up to 99 per cent of the researchers who have been awarded the money have accounted for it, 98 research papers being published by the University have increased despite disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, many of these projects have not been translated into usable innovations yet. For instance one of the projects that were highly publicized which involves adding value to potatoes and sorghum as a way of dealing with post- harvest waste hasn’t seen the light of day despite the fact that they make snacks that can be easily sold.

One of the researchers on this study, Bridget Nantambi says they have not yet commercialized their cookies and waffles, and that they are only sold at canteens within the university. Another researcher Fildah Ayaa who worked on software to aid food aid distribution at the height of the first COVID-19 lockdown last year told URN that they need an additional USD260, 000 for implementation if their software is to be used for future similar epidemics.

Meanwhile, the call for this research attracts a huge lot of researchers and Bazeyo says a number of important studies are always left out because of financial constraints. He cites the first round where they received about 700 applications and yet funded about 200 projects.

While Makerere researchers have been leading these studies, Bazeyo says they have now involved researchers from other universities including Mbarara University of Science and Technology, Makerere University Business School, Busitema and Gulu Universities among others.

According to rounds announced today, the Makerere University College of Health Sciences got the lion’s share, followed by the College of Veterinary Medicine and Bio Security.  The college of Information technology and that of engineering were among those that were awarded the least grants.  


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