Vaccine production is a long process, while you need a recipe you also need capacity building and some privileged information shared by experts along the way as they look over your shoulder and point you to the right direction and later you demonstrate that it works on your own.
Vaccine production is a serious matter of life and death. Africa is looking to locally manufacture at least 60% of its vaccines by 2040.
“There are tricks that are unspoken that we need to experience because it is your role to go through the development process which takes years,” says Patrick Tippoo, the Executive Director Africa Vaccine Manufacturing Initiative (AVMI).
Currently, South Africa and Egypt are the hub for manufacturing the COVID-19 vaccines but other countries like Algeria, Morocco and Senegal have made remarkable progress.
In Uganda, the process of vaccine development was communicated in a way that made the public believe that it would take a short period of time. Now former Minister of Science, Technology, and Innovation, Dr. Elioda Tumwesigye has faulted scientists who misinformed President Yoweri Museveni about the duration of time it would take for Uganda to develop a Covid-19 vaccine.
In 2020, UGX 31 billion (USD $8.7 million) was allocated to facilitate scientists on the development of a made in Uganda COVID-19 vaccine under the Presidential Scientific Initiative on Epidemics (PRESIDE).
PRESIDE is a brainchild of President Museveni led by Dr. Musenero, who was a Presidential Advisor on Epidemics at the time it was unveiled and is the current Minister for Science, Technology, and Innovation, Dr. Monica Musenero
Armed with information from Uganda scientists that Uganda would have a COVID-19 vaccine ready within a short time the President relayed the same information which has caused anxiety among Ugandans, said Dr. Tumwesigye who was on Wednesday appearing before Parliament’s Select Committee that is inquiring into the utilization of funds meant to facilitate the COVID-19 vaccine development.
While addressing the nation on April 18, Mr. Museveni said Ugandan scientists were working on a vaccine and ‘they were doing very well.’ In his subsequent address to the nation about COVID-19, President Museveni gave assurance to the public about Uganda’s advanced progress in the production of a Uganda made COVID-19 vaccine. In November 2021, the President said that Uganda’s vaccine would be named Nalubale Dawa DN.
A probe sanctioned by Deputy Speaker of Parliament, Anita Among has followed concerns raised by Ntungamo Municipality MP, Yona Musinguzi who said that in 2020, a select group of scientists convinced President Yoweri Museveni that they could produce a vaccine for COVID-19 and were funded under the PRESIDE and yet they lacked the capacity to develop the vaccine.
The scientists led by Dr. Musenero and a Select Committee was tasked to establish the progress in the development of a locally manufactured COVID-19 vaccine, establish the amount of money released for the research and others.
The other terms of reference are establishing the innovation and COVID-19 vaccine development, establishing how effective such funds have been utilized, and establishing challenges faced in the development of COVID-19 vaccines and medicines.
According to Dr. Tumwesigye, Uganda is still far away in regard to developing a vaccine since there is limited capacity. But unfair scientists went ahead to provide inadequate information to Museveni, who would, in turn, informed the public that a local vaccine would be ready soon.
“I want to know the motive of the scientists who knew it would take long but transmitted inadequate information,” said Dr. Tumwesigye. He was responding to different questions posed by legislators sitting on the Select Committee regarding the capability of PRESIDE to produce a Covid-19 vaccine.
Tumwesigye was also invited by MPs to explain what the role of the Ministry of Science, Technology, and Innovation was in the financing of PRESIDE activities.
In response to Nwoya County MP, Tony Awany’s comment that it had taken two years without PRESIDE making a breakthrough on a vaccine, the former Minister suggested that Uganda invites international companies to produce vaccines from the country.
He said that other African countries are making progress by supporting local scientists to work with international companies to produce vaccines citing South Africa that is already producing Johnson & Johnson Vaccine and Modena.
Dr. Tumwesigye added that Uganda needs to attract companies to invest locally so that the process of developing a vaccine is faster. He also revealed that his Ministry was not directly involved in the planning process for developing a Covid-19 vaccine.
Tumwesigye said that PRESIDE led the identification of scientists to work on the vaccine research and that his Ministry provided equipment that was needed.
Asked by Nwoya County MP, Tony Awany how the money provided to PRESIDE was to be accounted for, Dr. Tumwesigye said that the funds were availed to scientists under PRESIDE and that the former Secretary to Treasury, Keith Muhakanizi wrote to the Ministry directing that they should always seek no objection from Dr. Musenero.
The former Minister also noted that the Ministry in the financial year 2019/2020 had to forfeit its 10 billion innovation budget on scientists selected for different innovation project. HE said that the money had to be spent by PRESIDE that was handling the Covid-19 vaccine.
Regarding accountability for funds given to PRESIDE, Dr. Tumwesigye told MPs that the provisions under the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between PRESIDE and the Ministry are clear. He noted that PRESIDE is required to account to the Permanent Secretary to the Ministry who later accounts to the Auditor General.
Dr. Tumwesigye asked the Select Committee to pick interest in a multimillion piece of equipment that is meant to support the production of PCR reagents that are used in the testing Covid-19. He expressed concern that the equipment is likely to become obsolete because it continues to be held by the shipping company as a result of unpreparedness on the side of the government.
In November 2021, the former Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Science and Technology, David OO Obong told legislators that Minister Dr. Musenero should provide all accountability regarding the utilization of funds meant to facilitate the COVID-19 vaccine development. “The MoU signed between the Ministry and the Minister in regard to the utilization of funds and accountability is clear and requires Dr. Musenero to account for all funds released to her,” said Obomg.
Obong says that these funds have to date not been accounted by PRESIDE despite different letters from Dr. Musenero requesting for the funds to be advanced to different scientists.
However, Dr. Musenero denied having any accountability issues saying that she is not the accounting officer.
The Select Committee was tasked to establish the progress in the development of a locally manufactured COVID-19 vaccine, establish the amount of money released for the research and others.
The other terms of reference in establishing the innovation and COVID-19 vaccine development are establishing how effective such funds have been utilized and establishing challenges faced in the development of COVID-19 vaccines and medicines.
In his new audit report tabled before Parliament last week, the Auditor General John Muwanga confirmed that a total of UGX 31.033 billion Shillings was disbursed to the Ministry of Science Technology and innovation to support 23 selected projects of scientists and innovators engaged in Covid-19 scientific research, including the procurement of specialized machinery and equipment, development of vaccines, drug diagnostics, and other operational costs.
“The funds were divided into UGX15.787 billion for purchase of equipment and UGX15.245 billion for Operational Costs. An MOU was entered with PRESIDE to provide technical and administrative oversight at an operational level. It was noted that most projects were progressing well,” reads the audit report.
However, Muwanga also notes that due to the general weaknesses identified, there was a need to provide more guidance to the beneficiaries on how to account for Government funds.