Wednesday, April 25, 2018

MTN has largely complied with license obligations but some areas lacking

By Esther Nakkazi

The Uganda Communications Commission or UCC has published an evaluation report showing MTN Uganda Ltd’s regulatory compliance since it gained a National Telecommunications Operators license in 1998.

However, the report covers only the past ten years of UCC monitoring the operations of MTN evaluation focused on three broad categories of obligations; the financial, legal and technical.

Whereas MTN has to a large extent complied with most of its license and regulatory obligations, there are a number of outstanding areas of non-compliance which must be addressed before UCC processes its application for renewal of a license, says Godfrey Mutabazi, the UCC executive director in the report.

The report says MTN has largely provided uninterrupted telecommunications services during the course of its license in accordance with the laws of the Republic of Uganda. MTN got its license on April 15, 1998, from the Government of Uganda acting through the Minister of Works, Transport and Communications and UCC granted it an NTO license.

But it is due to expire in October 2018 and in accordance with the provisions of its National Telecommunications Operators (NTO) license, has formally submitted its application for a single term renewal of the license for another ten years.

The report says the evaluation will enable UCC to consider the application for renewal of MTN’s license. The evaluation reveals that MTN has largely been compliant, providing uninterrupted telecommunications services to Ugandans for over 20 years as an NTO.

As at 31st December 2017, MTN Uganda recorded growth in its subscriber base with 239,047 fixed lines and 11,587,207 mobile subscriptions. The client base is serviced by a national radio network of more than 1,637 base stations and it is fibre network that spans 4500 kilometers and a national mobile agency network of 77,144 among others.

Its revenues have also grown to more than UG Shs 1.3 trillion and have been recognized as one of the top taxpayers as well it has participated in various corporate social responsibility drives.

The report says MTN has pretty much complied with its financial obligations, for instance, its payment of the Levy on the Gross Annual Revenue, the initial Bid fee and Initial fee and maintains accounting records with acceptable accounting principles in accordance with the license agreement.

But points out that it has failed to comply with payment of assessed spectrum fees with an outstanding balance of Ushs 27,979,938 and has also failed to pay authorized fees for two invoices amounting to $295 and $3,540.

Throughout the monitoring period, it was observed that MTN which is obliged to interconnect with other licensees, so that users of one operator can communicate and access services with users of another operator, has indeed interconnection agreements with a number of licences like UTL, Airtel, Sure telecom, Simbanet, Afrimax, Africel/Orange and Smile Communications .

However, MTN has failed to meet statutory timelines for interconnections with One solutions Ltd, MTN-Simbanet, Roke Telecom. MTN has submitted that for these ones the obligation is not exclusive to them but UCC says the dual responsibility does not absolve MTN of its interconnection duties with the interconnection seekers.

Furthermore, it is also faulted for charging Ush 3 higher domestic interconnection fees. UCC requires MTN to charge domestic interconnection fees of Shs 112, a fee set in 2012, but MTN unilaterally levies Ushs 115. To this MTN argues that UCC did not have the powers to set interconnection rates by 2012.

UCC also says MTN has failed to report material information about the integrity of billing platforms. Over 360,000 incidents of erroneous billing were reported between June and Oct 2014, by MTN data customers.

However, even if MTN is obliged to report these matters to the regulator, it did not until its integrity questioned. Adamantly, MTN says it was under no obligation to report such incidents to the Regulator and only admitted to ‘multiple bundle loading and system logic failure and reimbursed some affected customers. But UCC maintains that the delay in communication of billing system malfunctions to its client base and to the regulator was negligent of MTN. 

UCC also observed that MTN delays in resolving consumer complaints, citing the last 2 years when it failed to resolve consumer 90% of complaints in 24 hours as the agreed threshold. It only managed to resolve 76.5% of complaints within the stipulated timelines.

It also noted that MTN is non-compliant with regulatory directives and continues to send out unsolicited messages without ‘opt out’ information contrary to UCC directive requiring all operators to stop such messages.

MTN in response argues that it instructed its content provider to ensure that all messages have ‘opt out’ messages. But UCC says MTN only applied this directive to 3rd party content providers and not MTN’s own unsolicited messages.

UCC is still receiving input from the public about the performance of MTN Uganda ahead of its license renewal. A public hearing was held on 26th March 2018 and UCC heard from MTN’s clients.

Ultimately, the regulator says if the decision is made to renew the license, the terms and conditions under which MTN Uganda’s new license will be granted will be different.

One in four blood transfusions transmit malaria in some parts of Africa

By Esther Nakkazi

At least one in four blood bank supplies in some areas of sub-Saharan Africa contain malaria parasites putting a high risk of transfusion-transmitted malaria especially to children with anemia.

Researchers suggest that for malaria to be eliminated, all sources of disease transmission, including the region’s blood banks, need to be addressed.

“Our findings clearly reinforce World Health Organization or WHO recommendations that all transfusion recipients receive preventive malarial treatments,” said Dr. Claudia Daubenberger based at the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute.

According to the WHO, 90 percent of all malaria cases are located in sub-Saharan Africa. Transfusion-transmitted malaria (TTM) in this region is estimated at 28%.

The findings were from two research studies presented at the 7th Multilateral Initiative on Malaria (MIM) Pan African Malaria Conference in Dakar, Senegal on 16 April 2018.

The first study, a systematic review, and meta-analysis gathered results from 24 studies including more than 10 studies from Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country to assess malaria prevalence among 22,508 blood donors.

Also, articles from databases and clinical trial registries reporting prevalence studies of malaria parasitemia amongst blood donors in sub-Saharan Africa published between 2000 and 2017 were used.

As well grey literature sources such as the WHO website and published reports of ministries of health websites of countries and reference lists of papers were also screened. Risk of Bias was assessed using the Joanna Briggs Institute Prevalence Critical Appraisal Tool.

The pooled prevalence of malaria parasitemia found was 23.46 percent. The study showed that without better vigilance, children receiving transfusions to address malaria’s impacts like anemia risk exposure to more malaria-causing parasites.

“Our research is only the first line of inquiry needed to address this risk. Pregnant women and children receive the majority of transfusions in this region,” said Dr. Selali Fiamanya and colleagues from the Worldwide Antimalarial Resistance Network (WWARN).

The technical challenges of diagnosing and removing the Plasmodium parasites from the blood banks require further analysis, but we know already that these findings threaten the next generation—our future, said Dr. Fiamanya.

The second study, focusing on the blood supply of Equatorial Guinea’s capital, Malabo, found much higher levels of latent malaria infection, most of it—more than 89 percent—at a level that commonly used diagnostic technology cannot detect.

Typically, rapid diagnostic tests (RDTs) and thick blood smear microscopy are used to diagnose malaria, but these cannot detect latent malaria infection so low-level or asymptomatic infections can hide reservoirs of parasites that fuel future malaria outbreaks.

The study used a more sensitive diagnostic test—quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) assays, which are currently too expensive and unsuitable for most field conditions—to examine.

29.5 percent of the 200 blood samples collected in Malabo were contaminated according to the study conducted by Dr. Daubenberger and colleagues at the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute, and Dr. Tamy Robaina at the Malabo Blood Bank.

All of the samples thought to be free of the malaria parasite held very low concentrations of the parasites—under 100 parasites per microliter of blood said Dr. Daubenberger.

“With better screening technology and practices in place, blood banks in sub-Saharan Africa can be well placed to serve as a surveillance system, helping to monitor malaria and other transfusion-transmitted infectious diseases,” said Dr. Daubenberger.


Friday, February 9, 2018

Routine childhood immunizations could include typhoid vaccine

By Esther Nakkazi

The World Health Organization (WHO) has prequalified a typhoid vaccine that can be administered to children as young as six months of age and included with other routine childhood immunizations.

The WHO announced the prequalification Typbar-TCV, - a type of vaccine that is created by joining an antigen to protein molecule ̶ early this month (3 January), making it the first vaccine approved by WHO to be given to children under the age of two who are disproportionately impacted by typhoid.

According to International Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) estimates that in 2016, there were about 12 million cases of typhoid fever resulting in around 130,000 deaths.

The IHME says currently a third of the global population is at risk of typhoid fever, which results in reduced school attendance, loss of work and wages, lowered pregnancy outcomes and impaired the physical and cognitive development of children.

Typhoid fever is caused by the bacterium Salmonella Typhi (S. Typhi), which infects humans due to contaminated food and beverages from sewage and other infected humans.

“The WHO’s decision to prequalify Typbar-TCV is a key step in expanding access to life-saving typhoid conjugate vaccines,” said Kathy Neuzil, director of the Center for Vaccine Development at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

Krishna Ella, chairman and managing director of Bharat Biotech, which developed the prequalified vaccine, says that clinical trials have shown that t giving the vaccine at 25 micrograms per dose has proven longterm protection for children and adults, and can be administered to children from 6 months of age.

Tabley Bakyayita, an acting assistant commissioner health services at the Uganda Ministry of Health, tells Uganda ScieGirl that the WHO prequalification of Typbar-TCV could make the vaccine available more widely as it indicates that it meets international standards and serves as an endorsement of quality, efficacy, and safety.

Typbar-TCV is a Vi-tetanus toxoid conjugate vaccine manufactured by the Indian company Bharat Biotech and is delivered through intramuscular injection and offers advantages over currently available typhoid vaccines. For instance, one injectable typhoid conjugate vaccine (TCV) of longer and higher levels of immunogenicity compared with the injectable Vi polysaccharide (ViPS) vaccine.

A single 0.5 mL dose offers protection for at least 3 years to adults, children, and infants over 6 months of age was recently recommended by WHO’s Strategic Advisory Group of Experts (SAGE) on Immunization but recommended further studies to determine the need for a booster dose.

“Countries can now begin applying for funding assistance from Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, to support the introduction of Typbar-TCV,” said Neuzil.

Bharat Biotech additionally announced a further price reduction to $1.00 or below per dose for low-income countries after the procurement of 100 million doses.

But Bakyayita said Uganda is not yet ready to include it in routine immunization services because the disease burden is not big enough to justify the introduction of a typhoid vaccine to be administered routinely.

It is also not cost effective and there is no evidence of antibiotic-resistant Salmonella Typii in the country or at least the surveillance system has not captured it, said Bakyayita.

However, private practitioners can have it and provide it like they have done so with other vaccines which are not given by the government routinely like Rota vaccine, yellow fever, Meningitis and others said Bakyayita.

A pediatrician who did not want to be named said Uganda may for now not need the typhoid vaccine for children but toilets and better sanitation.

The SAGE committee recommended the introduction of TCV for infants and children over 6 months of age as a single dose in typhoid endemic countries. Routine programmatic administration of TCV is likely to be most feasible at existing vaccine visits at 9 months of age or in the second year of life.

It recommended that introduction of TCV should first be prioritized for countries with the highest burden of disease or a high burden of antibiotic-resistant S. Typhi. Uganda is not one of them.

Sunday, December 3, 2017

Alternative facts hinder biotech communication

By Esther Nakkazi

Biotechnology may have various hurdles in Africa, but its biggest obstacle remains communication especially in the face of alternative facts.

“Our biggest hurdle is not policymakers or evidence but communication,” said Kevin M. Folta a professor and chairman of the Horticultural Sciences department at the University of Florida at the three-day (27th-29th September) high-level conference on the application of Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) in harnessing opportunities for Africa’s agricultural transformation held in Uganda.

“Groups opposed to biotechnology are very good at building trust. They use ‘alternative facts’ by confirming the fears and biases of the people unsure of who to trust,” said Kevin M. Folta.

Nancy Muchiri the senior communications and partnership manager at African Agriculture Technology Foundation (AATF) for Africa said it is a reality and they are dealing with it but what they are doing is to help the farmers tell the messages themselves.

“Alternative facts are not difficult to explain. For instance, for any positive story, there is a parallel story. If Sudan and India have benefited from BT cotton they say Burkina has abandoned it,” lamented Dr. Getachew Belay, a senior biotechnology policy adviser at the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA).

While other countries have moved on to other modern technologies like gene editing, Africans are still debating terms like the terminator seed, GMO labeling and safety issues around the technology.

What is not explained by biotech haters about India is that by 2016 it had a 25 percent world cotton market share from 12 percent in 2002 and that Burkina Faso earnings from cotton plummeted from $1.5 billion annually to $400 million last year.

Biotech experts offered Africans a range of advice to overturn the haters.

“The best we can do is to get many people with facts and more voices talking about agricultural biotechnology,” said Denis Kyetera, the Executive Director, African Agriculture Technology Foundation (AATF) for Africa.

“We need to change the strategy and tell people what they want and that is the truth. People are seeking honest answers but they do not know who to trust,” said Folta explaining that “facts do not matter without trust. There is a lot of good science but you need to reach out to the non-traditional audiences,” he told scientists.

Sarah Davidson Evanega, a plant biologist and the Director for Cornell Alliance for Science explained that their our goal is to empower farmers so that they can tell their own stories - because ‘farmers voices are the most authentic and powerful.’

She advised that it is important not to repeat the narratives of biotech haters and try to be proactive and not reactive.

“In our program, we are no longer trying to respond to alternative facts anymore. We are trying to have a continuous flow of factual and balanced information. If we look at the organizations that are sponsoring alternative facts they have a lot more money and many campaigns,” said John Komen, Assistant Director, and Africa Coordinator, Program for Biosafety Systems (PBS).

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Medical camps are the only hope for the poor to meet specialists

Dr. Ben Watmon examining  Rwot's eye at Nebbi hospital
By Esther Nakkazi

He was quiet and frail.

The three year, little boy, had an eye problem, and obviously had not enough sleep the previous night. Living 50 kilometers from Nebbi hospital, father and son had to wake up at dawn to be the first in the queue.

Still, little Jonathan Rwot was almost at the end of the long line that mostly had elderly people. He was sitting on his father’s lap. Never raising his head. Starring at the floor with his head slightly bent down all the while.

It was one of the hotter days. Rwot could have been playing hide and seek or kicking a locally made football with other kids but here he was waiting.

He had to have an examination; an operation and a referral. He was not only suffering physically but emotionally too. He was small, with a scary, protruding eye and undernourished. Such a pitiful sight. It was not his turn but got pulled out of the line. That was luck.

“He might not live beyond five years,” said Dr. Ben Watmon an ophthalmologist. He was using an ophthalmoscope to shine a bright light into Rwot’s eye as part of the examination. Only then, did Rwot, for three years look straight into another person’s eyes for a long time.

Gibert Onegi, the father was not fixated on the details of the diagnosis. Really, just some concerns loomed; If he could get his son out of pain, to play with other children and sleep with his eyes closed without crying at night. Maybe the emotional pain would go away too.

Dr. Watmon asked gingerly how and when the problem started. He probed. But Onegi had no exact answers.

It supposedly started when Rwot was four months, said Onegi. But his boy got no medical attention. His mother did not have much time or love for Rwot. She later found another man and abandoned her young son.

By the time Rwot was brought to his father two years after he was born, the tumor within the eye was fully grown. He was lonely. Kids didn't play with him. They shunned Rwot. But he never cried in front of them - just watched them play.

At night, Rwot’s sick eye did not close. It glowed like a cat’s eye in their pitch black small, one-roomed house. Rwot did not sleep much and only at night did he cry, Onegi said.

Rwot was diagnosed with retinoblastoma, a cancer that starts in the retina. It is a common eye cancer in children and can be sporadic or hereditary. If not treated early the tumor grows outside of the eyeball. Exactly what happened to Rwot.

“The clinical appearance shows the cancer is in advanced stages,” said Dr. Watmon who was at Nebbi hospital for a medical eye camp. He explained that the camp is a bridging gap for the rural poor who may never afford or have a chance to see a specialist. But he is limited in his services.
“At the camp, I do not look at itching eyes. My main work is surgery. Rwot has had a chance,” he said. Based at Gulu hospital, about 70 kilometers away, Dr. Watmon is also the one ophthalmologist in charge of the whole mid-northern region with millions of people.

That is not strange. Uganda has only 48 ophthalmologists, according to their umbrella body, the Uganda Ophthalmology Society. Eight have since retired leaving only 40 to serve an entire population of 41 million people. 26 of these remain in the country’s capital, Kampala. 14 like Dr. Watmon serve the rural populations in hard to reach areas.

Many hospitals out of Kampala, Nebbi inclusive, lack specialized services. So conditions that could be treated early and reversed go untreated until the ‘arm of God’ presents breakthroughs like the medical eye camp.

The Uganda Government tries to solve the problem by partnering with non-governmental organizations to provide such services through medical camps. For this eye camp, its partner was Amref Health Africa, Uganda branch.

But the demand for specialist services for each hospital is different. For instance, in 2016, Nebbi hospital registered 49,809 outpatients. 2.3 percent or 1,180 were eye patients, said Dr. Charles Keneddy Kissa the medical superintendent, Nebbi hospital.

“We have one ophthalmologist officer who can only handle minor eye cases such as allergies although the hospital has a beautiful eye clinic, which has not been used for 10 years,” said Dr. Kissa.

They have tried to find an ophthalmologist doctor. “We have advertised many times but got no interested candidates,” said Dr. Kissa. Undeniably, this is a hard to reach area and with no incentives, doctors are not eager to work there.

As such, conditions like glaucoma, refractive errors and cataracts, which most of the people in the line waiting with Rwot have, cannot be reversed and cured because they cannot be intercepted early.

Another solution could be getting an eye donation but organ transplant in Uganda is illegal.

Dr. Watmon had two solutions for Rwot; first to put him on chemotherapy then remove the eye or remove the eye and do chemotherapy. He opted for the latter and referred him to Ruharo eye center, the only facility in Uganda that gives free eye chemotherapy services for children.

But it is in the western part of the country while Rwot lives in the northern part.

However, there is hope. If his case is forwarded to Ruharo, as a referral, transport money will be sent to Onegi to take his son for free chemotherapy.

But at Nebbi hospital at least the journey began. Rwot’s operation was among the 42 Doctor Watmon carried out during the five-day eye camp. 106 patients were examined but some were not as lucky as Rwot. They walked long distances back home to wait for the next eye camp.

“At least Rwot will be free of pain,” said Dr. Watmon. He will sleep with both eyes closed.


This article was made possible by Amref Africa- Uganda

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Contraceptives for teens? Immoral but they are having sex!

By Esther Nakkazi

On the International Day of the Girl Child, Uganda is struggling with what to do with her girl child. At the tender age of sixteen or less, the average Ugandan girl is having sex. But do they need contraceptives?

According to studies, Uganda has one of the highest teenage pregnancy rates in sub-Saharan Africa. By ages 15-19, one in four Ugandan women is already a mother or is pregnant and later in life from age 15 - 24 years - the burden of HIV is high - Uganda has the second highest rate of HIV infection among women.

To wisely address this issue Uganda revised its fourth, 2015, policy, National Guidelines and Service Standards for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights.

After 18 months of adequately engaging all stakeholders including district leaders, service providers, religious and cultural leaders, with Uganda's Ministry of Health, particularly its reproductive health department, spearheading the review process, the Guidelines were ready to be launched.

They were, duly, signed by Uganda's Ministry of Health acting director general of health services, Prof. Anthony Mbonye who is also a member of the faculty of public health at London's Royal College of Physicians meaning his ministry endorsed them. As well the assistant commissioner of health services, Dr. Bladinah Nakiganda appended her signature.

Strategically, the revised Guidelines were to be launched on the final day of the Uganda National Family Planning Conference, held from 26th to 27th September 2017 in Kampala.

When they were presented to the state minister for primary health care, Joyce Moriku, there was hesitation and she announced that the speaker of Parliament, Rebbeca Kadaga, was not consulted so she could not launch them.

Ultimately, she refused to launch them saying, Ministry of Health officials had not been consulted and that the Guidelines intended to distribute contraceptives to 10-year-olds.

Birth control is a preventive health care strategy.

In the same breath when the Minister of health, Dr. Jane Ruth Aceng, appeared before parliament she confirmed that her ministry does not own the Guidelines and ‘acting staff’ in this case a high-level well-trained official, who is part of her team, endorsed the guidelines.

The Permanent Secretary at the Ministry of health, Dr. Diana Atwine has also told reporters that they do not agree with the guidelines and they will stick to ‘moral principles’.

Now, besides showing a lame, uncoordinated leadership at Uganda’s Ministry of health this whole fracas shows two other things. While for HIV, the leadership is worried that the money injected into prevention is not yielding matching results and will defend every coin the story is different when it comes to family planning.

This year, the Uganda teen pregnancy rate shot up by 1%. For over 10 years, the Uganda teenage pregnancy levels have stagnated, at least 25 percent of Uganda teenagers become pregnant by 19 years and face four times the risk of maternal death according to the Ministry of Health.

On the other hand, there is increased funding, even domestically, the family planning budget has grown by 40% from $3.3 million $5 million after President Museveni attended the 2012 London Family planning summit. But the leaders at the Ministry seem to be comfortable with having more funds and maintaining the miserable reproductive health stats.

Secondly, in February this year, I attended the first international symposium on community health workers held in Kampala. The Executive Director for African Centre for Global Health and Social Transformation (ACHEST) Prof. Francis Omaswa, a much-celebrated officer at the Ministry of Health advised that; ‘the best way to manage a system is not to blame an individual. I guess, in this instance, that should be advised to the ministry of health leadership.

This morning civil society had a press conference and confessed to a dangerous trend of Ministry of Health creating a ‘leadership vacuum’ and refusing to provide evidence-based policy and technical guidance on issues that relate to sex and sexuality in Uganda.

They also blamed the ministry for creating a ‘policy desert’ especially for health workers who are faced with challenges of young girls asking for contraceptives.

Apparently, the revised Guidelines are an essential technical tool to equip policymakers and health workers with the framework to provide SRHR services to Ugandans, including adolescent girls and young women.

"We have to address the reality the girls are facing. We need access to services based on science and evidence. Ministry of health should be ashamed," said Moses Mulumba, the team leader at CEHURD.

“Our babies are having babies and it is a reality that young girls are having sex,” said Justine Balya, the Human Rights Awareness and Promotion Forum (HRAPF) Legal Consultant at the civil society press conference.

Civil Society also cited governance issues, saying it is a "failure of leadership on the part of the Ministry of Health," for the launch and later withdrawal of not only these SRHR policy guidelines but also the ‘Standards and Guidelines for reducing Morbidity and Mortality due to unsafe abortion in Uganda’ which were withdrawn in 2016.

For the National Guidelines and Service Standards for Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights civil society which funded them said all they are interested in is providing age-appropriate family planning information to young girls and that is spelt out in the Guidelines.

Now, no one is interested in giving teens contraceptives. They are too young. But if they become teen mothers their own teen children will also have babies and the cycle will continue.  The best we can do is have an 'open and honest' conversation not mute it. With the right information, they will make the right call! Don't we get it!


Monday, October 2, 2017

Uganda's Biotech Bill Could Become Law Tomorrow?

By Esther Nakkazi

The Uganda biotechnology and biosafety bill is due to be debated in parliament for the nth time tomorrow, Tuesday (3rd, October, 2017).

If it is passed it will send a strong signal to the rest of world if not biotech experts have vowed not to mourn over it but to re-strategise, clean it up and table it before parliament again.

The man in charge is Dr. Elioda Tumwesigye, the minister of Science, Technology and Innovation (STI), a qualified medical doctor who has continuously confessed to not knowing much about agricultural biotech.

Last week, Dr. Tumwesigye was in parliament and while the the bill was on the order paper he deferred to use the opportunity begging to first hear from biotech experts who would be in Uganda attending a three-day (27th-29th September) high-level conference on application of Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) in harnessing Africa’s agricultural transformation.

Tumwesigye himself anxious for the bill to pass was seeking advise on among other things; GMO labelling, strict liability and the expedited review clause, which he has been advised to delete and have stagnated the bill at Parliament.

Experts attending the conference praised Uganda for its progress in conducting field trials but cautioned about it delaying the bill further.

At the conference,  Dr. Tumwesigye reached out to biotech experts for insights into winning over the reluctant Uganda parliamentarians. “For me I am just a medical doctor. I want to understand, if there are now more modern technologies is it still relevant for us to pass this bill,” inquired Dr. Tumwesigye who is also the first minister of the newly created ministry of STI. He was reacting to the statements below.

Answers from the biotech experts were direct and straight. 

“In Africa we like debating as opportunities pass by us. The world has now moved from biotechnology to gene editing. Africans can be leaders and not followers,” said Margaret Karembu, the director of International Service for the Acquisition of Agri-biotech Applications Africa regional office (ISAAA AfriCenter).

“We need to move with some speed so that new emerging technologies do not move ahead of us,” said Abed K. Mathagu the program officer-regulatory affairs at the African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF).

To which Dr. Tumwesigye wondered if it was still necessary for Uganda to adopt the biotech bill and not leap frog like Africa did with mobile telephony. “Cant we skip the biotech law and move on to gene editing if the technology is now archaic?”

"Both of these technologies (biotech and gene editing) are necessary and needed. We should not exclude one or another. They both serve different purposes. Before we can have food security people need to be secure about the food they eat," said Kevin M. Folta a professor and chairman of the HorticulturalSciences department at the University of Florida

For now, the Uganda biotech bill drafted in 2012 already has support from the highest office, the Uganda president, Yoweri Museveni, but has failed to get enough support from Parliamentarians for it to be passed.

“I have repeatedly said that there is nothing wrong with this technology. However, there are lots of controversies due to misinformation, which unfortunately seems to have been bought by some legislators,” said Yoweri Museveni.

“My government created the Ministry of Science, Technology and Innovation (MoSTI) in June 2016 to provide a basis for enhancing sector coherence and coordination,” said Uganda’s Yoweri Museveni in a speech read for him by Vincent Ssempijja the Minister of Agriculture, Animal Industry and Fisheries.

Museveni said the priority for the STI ministry is to spearhead the retabling and consideration by Parliament of the bill, which ‘must be adopted for Ugandan farmers to access biotechnology products to increase their production’.

Uganda developed and adopted the biotechnology and biosafety bill 2012, which the Ministry of STI is working towards its enactment into law.

“Uganda should learn from other countries and pass this law now. And it should be done in a way that you do not have to go back to parliamentarians for amendments. The warning is that do not repeat the mistakes of other countries,” said Bongani Maseko, general manager, AfricaBio. 

“If it is passed we are supposed to celebrate. Ultimately, it will send a strong signal to other African countries. But if it does not go through we shall re-strategise but we shall not be mourning,” said Dr. John Komen, Assistant Director and Africa Coordinator, Program for Biosafety Systems (PBS)

Dr. Komen and other biotech experts attending the conference said Uganda’s bigger challenge is actually not just passing the bill but how to operationalise it.

Currently, in sub-Saharan Africa the following countries test GM crops: Burkina Faso, Sudan, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Ghana, Cameroon, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Malawi, Mozambique, Swaziland and South Africa. But only two are currently growing them: Sudan and South Africa.