By: Harriet Adong, Mak-RIF Communications Officer
The afternoon of Wednesday March 17th, 2021 saw Makerere University’s Department of Immunology and Molecular Biology, College of Health Sciences (CHS) launch the homegrown COVID-19 Rapid Antibody Test Kits. The COVID-19 Rapid Antibody Test Kits developed domestically aim to address challenges related to affordability/cost using imported items, promote research and innovation in the medical/health field and Makerere University in general.
This project was spearheaded by Dr. Misaki Wayengera, Director Biomedical Research at the Department of Immunology and Molecular Biology, College of Health Sciences, Makerere University. Dr. Wayengera is also the Chairperson of the Scientific Advisory Committee on the COVID-19 Taskforce in the Ministry of Health. These efforts are directed towards enhancing the fight against the spread of the Corona Virus not only at Makerere University but also in the entire country. Explaining the advantages of the project, Dr. Wayengera said “Makerere University has developed an affordable (costing less than US $1), easy to use (requiring minimal expertise, user guide), rapid (yielding results within 2-5 minutes) point of care test platform for COVID-19 suited for use within remote equatorial African settings. This will enable rapid testing for Coronavirus and considerably lower the cost of testing currently standing at USD 65, which is prohibitive for developing countries like Uganda. This could not have been achieved without the financial support of Partners and Institutions such as Supervised Financial Institutions under their umbrella body Uganda Bankers Association, Deposit Protection Fund of Uganda, and Government of the Republic of Uganda, the French Embassy in Uganda and Uganda’s Ministry of Science Technology and Innovation’’.
The Test Kit involves using a swab-tube dipstick to do an antigen test by use of a nasal sample. With this quick test, once the nasopharyngeal sample is obtained, it is placed back into its tube containing reagents that detect the virus surface protein.
This event was attended by Uganda’s Minister of Health; Hon. Dr. Jane Ruth Aceng Ocero, Uganda’s Minister of Science Technology and Innovation; Hon. Dr. Elioda Tumwesigye, French Ambassador to Uganda; His Excellency Jules-Armand Aniambossou, the World Health Organization Country Representative; Dr. Yonas W. Tegeny, Uganda’s Director General at Ministry of Health; Dr. Henry Mwebesa and the Permanent Secretary at Ministry of Health; Dr. Diana Atwine. The funders were also represented at the event and these included; Makerere University Research and Innovations Fund (Mak-RIF) represented by Dr. Roy William Mayega, Mak-RIF Coordinator, Uganda Bankers Association represented by Mr. Wilbrod Owor, the French Embassy and Ministry of Science Technology and Innovation like earlier listed among other dignitaries.
At the occasion, Prof. Damalie Nakanjako, Principal Makerere University College of Health Sciences represented Makerere University’s Vice Chancellor Prof. Barnabas Nawangwe. She welcomed all scientists, innovators and the media fraternity (representing the community) to witness yet another stride in and by faculty in Uganda’s leading higher institution of learning-Makerere University. In her remarks, she noted that, the University has through College of Health Sciences built extensive expertise, experience and eco-systems across the academia and partnerships for Research and Development of pathogen diagnostic. “This kit will carry out antibody tests. It will also be used in early detection of COVID-19 cases, used in screening of travelers for COVID-19, detection of symptoms as well as aid in sero-prevalennce studies to determine previous exposure to COVID-19. Makerere University is hopeful that this will enable Uganda and other African countries to cost-effectively respond to the COVID-19 pandemic”.
Makerere University is grateful for the SEED funding (UGX 65, 527, 020) from the Government of the Republic of Uganda through Makerere University Research and Innovations Fund (Mak-RIF) which aided initialization of this project. The Government of the Republic of Uganda is funding cross disciplinary research and innovations (over 500 projects now, up to a tune of Uganda Shillings 60 billion only for the last two financial years). Makerere University faculty and students have through this initiative engaged with other institutions, organizations, disciplines and Ministries enhancing research and innovations in and outside the institution. For all this support, we are truly grateful to the Government of the Republic of Uganda and all our other funders/partners, Prof. Nakanjako added.
Hon. Dr. Elioda Tuwesigye, Minister of Science Technology and Innovation in Uganda noted that such strides like the launch of Makerere University homegrown COVID-19 Rapid Antibody Test Kits was only a wake-up call to all of us that the virus is still with us and we can together do so much to up the fight against further spread and effects. He thanked the Government of the Republic of Uganda for funding research and innovations in Makerere University and other institutions too. “It is through research that we garner additional knowledge to enable us to be and remain creative. Embracing Research and Innovation is the way to go if we are to realize development in our country, Africa and the globe’’, he added.
Uganda’s Minister of Health at the event in her remarks congratulated all scientists at Makerere University including Dr. Wayengera and his research for working closely with the Ministry to respond to diverse community challenges and in this case the Coronavirus. She noted that this virus is still with us and thus the need for us to continue observing the Standard Operating Procedures, researching ad innovating to carry on with the fight. She added that some countries were experiencing the second and third wave of Coronavirus and thus Ugandans must remain on the alert regardless of the circumstances at the moment so that these waves do not crop in and sweep away the population. Hon. Dr. Aceng said: “These rapid antibody testing kits come at a point when we are preparing for the next wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, thank you Dr. Wayengera and team.’’
His Excellency Jules-Armand Aniambossou, French Ambassador in his remarks noted that the French Embassy in Uganda was and is happy to collaborate with and further support Makerere University’s efforts to respond to the Coronavirus. He said “Uganda’s response to COVID-19 was and is strong, immediate ad efficient. We need to learn from Uganda. Uganda can compete globally. Well done Scientists, he said as he officially launched the homegrown COVID-19 Rapid antibody Test Kits’’.
In the drive to raise funds towards the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, and in response to Government’s call for support to join hands, Members of Uganda Bankers Association (UBA) and the Deposit Protection Fund contributed UGX. 200million to the project which was in advanced stages in 2020. Speaking at the occasion, Mr. Wilbrod Owor-Executive Director UBA applauded Makerere University for the research efforts as an academic institution and the quick turnaround invention. “The pandemic has had diverse effects on the economy and one of the most affected sectors are education, tourism & hospitality, real estate which ultimately have affected the banking sector by way of increase in Non-Performing Loans. In addition to the loan restructures that member banks have offered, as part of support to business community, we are also happy to have invested to support testing. Therefore, the affordability of this intervention is much welcome to address cost issues that would otherwise have to be so high for an average Ugandan” Owor said.
Dr. Roy William Mayega, Coordinator at the Makerere University Research and Innovations Fund (Mak-RIF) on behalf of Prof. William Bazeyo, Chair Mak-RIF thanked Dr. Wayengera and his research/innovation team for the work well done. He also thanked all funders for positively responding to the call for more resources to realize this project. He said “It is only when funders see such research and innovation outputs like the COVID-19 Rapid antibody Test Kits we are holding in our hands now that they will look further into their Bank Accounts to raise more resources to further support research and innovations. Thank you Dr. Wayengera and all the other Scientists for leading by doing. Let us continue with these efforts’’.
Dr. Wayengera acknowledged all the support/funding and gave each donor a pack of the COVID-19 Rapid Antibody Testing Kits.
The event host, Prof. Nakanjako, Principal at Makerere University’s College of Health Sciences then thanked all participants and welcomed them to further engage in a cocktail as volunteers led by the Director General and Minister of Health experienced antibody testing using the newly launched kits. The rest of the COVID-19 Test Kits will be used in the Makerere University Medical School laboratories
Congratulations Makerere University and congratulations the Government of the Republic of Uganda!
‘We Build for the Future, For God and My Country’
View and read about this launch in the Media
- New COVID-19 rapid antibody test kits launched to reduce cost and promote research. – https://joripress.com/new-covid-19-rapid-antibody-test-kits-launched-to-reduce-cost-and-promote-research
- New Vision Newspaper Friday, March 19th, 2021, Page 10
- Daily Monitor Newspaper Thursday, March 18th, 2021 Page 6
Compiled By: Harriet Adong, Mak-RIF Communications Officer