President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni has challenged local scientists to fast-track the development of the HIV/AIDS vaccine.
The Joint Clinical Research Center (JCRC) is celebrating its 30th anniversary today. The event was conducted at the center’s headquarters in Lubowa, along Entebbe Road in the Wakiso District, and the President gave the remarks as the Chief Guest.
President Museveni emphasized the need of vaccines in combating issues like epidemics.
“I’m surprised that it has taken you so long to receive a vaccine. At the AIDS Conference in Florence, Italy, I don’t know which year it was, there was a lot of hope that we would receive one. At the time, I was practically studying to be a molecular biologist because we were saying that the AIDS virus was changing, but that if we could identify the parts of the virus that weren’t changing, we could find a common denominator among the various strains of the virus and identify it. Subsequently, I learned that this virus is extremely harmful because it gets past your defense system and becomes undetectable. What are we doing in response to this opponent now? Despite the mutations, what became of the theory of the common denominator? And he asked.
You are aware of how much these vaccinations can resolve issues. The smallpox epidemic of the previous century claimed many lives in 1893, but it vanished after vaccinations were developed. Smallpox, in my opinion, is extinct now. I thus issue a challenge to scientists, particularly our own scientists, to get up and address these issues rather than do nothing but wait for someone else to finish the job.
President Museveni opened the JCRC headquarters’ first-ever bone marrow transplant center during the same ceremony. In addition, he approved the master plan and placed the cornerstone for the newly proposed cell and gene therapy center.
“I would like to congratulate JCRC on the opening of this bone marrow transplant center. It will be far less expensive to complete it here than it would be outside, as Prof. Ibingira had mentioned,” he said.
However, President Museveni disclosed that he is attempting to convince some religious individuals that the claim that using gene therapy and biotechnology interferes with God’s work is untrue.
We’ve been engaged in this activity for a while. I have worked as a genetic engineer for a long time because, as cow managers, we always choose the best breeders who will yield more milk; some bulls only produce female offspring, and we value females above all else. You are quite unfortunate if your cows are primarily producing male bulls since you have no idea what to do with the bulls. President Museveni emphasized, “But if they are producing females, they are good because you have a bigger breeding population.”
I therefore wish to persuade my religious community that we have been acting in that way due to the bulls’ performance standards. We are engineering, but we are aggregating these genes slowly. Now that these scientists possess the entire gene chain, they are able to identify the problematic gene and take appropriate action, much like we would in breeding. We can also use this lab-based approach to accomplish it. It’s hardly a novel approach,” he continued.
In order to replace bone marrow that isn’t creating enough healthy blood cells, a bone marrow transplant involves injecting your body with healthy blood-forming stem cells. Gene therapy is a medical procedure that includes modifying the genes within a patient’s body cells with the goal of treating or curing disease. Bone marrow transplants are also referred to as stem cell transplants.
The President also praised the partners who, over the years, have collaborated closely with JCRC to advance clinical development and research.
“I would especially like to express my gratitude to Dr. Manfred Dietrich; his tremendous contribution to this center deserves a medal or something.” I also want to express my gratitude to all of our other partners, including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the United States President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). God will remember them and grant them a home in heaven, he added. We are incredibly grateful to them for their participation.
Afterwards, the President presented awards to the former deputy chief justice of Uganda, His Lordship Steven Kavuma, Dr. Crispus Kiyonga, Justice Epelu Opio, Mr. Ben Luwum, and former prime minister, Rt. Hon. Amama Mbabazi, for their outstanding contributions to the JCRC.
Conversely, Dr. Jane Ruth Aceng, the Minister of Health, expressed gratitude to the President for leading Uganda’s fight against HIV/AIDS and for his resolve to ending the disease by 2030.
Dr. Aceng expressed gratitude, saying, “We appreciate your unwavering support of the health sector and your vision of a healthy and productive population that contributes to socio-economic growth and national development.”
As everyone knows, Uganda was the site of the first HIV/AIDS case in 1982. When the epidemic was first discovered, Your Excellency oversaw the early awareness and preventive messaging campaigns. The Ministry of Health also set up sentinel sites to track the trend in HIV/AIDS prevalence, which peaked in Kampala in 1992 at 30% but had no treatment at the time, she said.
“Permit me to express my gratitude, Your Excellency, as many others have expressed, for founding this wonderful organization—the Joint Clinical Research Center, which you launched in 1992 with the goal of locating a scientific cure for HIV/AIDS, a serious health issue that plagued the people of Uganda.”
The Minister further said that the employment of a multi-sectoral strategy in collaboration with Uganda’s development partners was responsible for the improvement in the country’s HIV/AIDS statistics.
Dr. Aceng stated, “We expect the Joint Clinical Research Centre to make a significant contribution in the last mile of this journey in ending AIDS by 2030. It has made significant contributions on every step of the journey that we have taken towards the end of HIV/AIDS as a public health threat.”
“JCRC is once again leading efforts to find an effective HIV vaccine and to ensure that Ugandan scientists actively contribute to the designing of research for the HIV/AIDS cure, particularly through the emerging cell and gene therapy technologies whose clinical trials have already started in the United States of America,” she continued. “As we move to the last frontier in the cure of HIV.”
Prof. Charles Ibingira, Chairman of the JCRC Board of Directors, praised the President for his audacious choice to confront the HIV crisis head-on at a time when his revolutionary leadership was most needed due to the disease’s novelty and the high death toll at that point.
“People were passing away all around us, and we had given up hope, but thanks to your vision, things turned around. Your amazing leadership and concern for Ugandans is evident in your remarkable vision to establish JCRC in order to intervene and address the precarious condition that the country’s people were in as well as the untold suffering caused by HIV/AIDS. We will always be indebted to you for this,” he continued.
Dr. Cissy Kityo, the Executive Director of JCRC, emphasized that the center has been instrumental in the fight against HIV/AIDS in the region by being the first to introduce HIV medications to sub-Saharan Africa in 1992 and bringing in the first generic HIV medications from India to reduce costs. This initiative later served as a case study for the PEPFAR’s architecture.
“Your Excellency, in order to find fresh perspectives, remedies, and answers to some of the most difficult problems confronting our country and area, our researchers have labored and will continue to work nonstop. According to Dr. Kityo, “JCRC has been involved in pioneering research that has advanced global knowledge and informed changes to policies and guidelines as well as the regimen of the medications we take.”
She continued by saying that the center is currently in charge of the first study in Africa assessing novel HIV medications, which are administered as injections every two months as opposed to taking pills every day.
We’ll keep pushing the envelope since knowledge has no limitations and we’ll always aim for research excellence. Dr. Kityo stated, “Our laboratory has developed numerous tests to track the effectiveness of HIV medications, such as the CD4 count, viral load, and testing of children as early as 6 weeks. Previously, we tested children until they were 8 months old, but now we can test them using molecular tests and decide if they should begin treatment.”
The Executive Director concluded by inviting the President to show Ms. Josephine Nakandi, an inpatient of the JCRC who was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS at the age of three and later suffered from meningitis that entirely destroyed her brain, an artistic rendition of a house.
“We have enrolled her in a school for the disabled and given her access to healthcare.” She has been renting, and each month the JCRC staff has paid a portion of her rent. We have constructed a house for her at Kitende, around 12 kilometers away, as part of our corporate social responsibility efforts. “Please join us in presenting it to her,” she asked President Museveni.
In the meantime, the President gave Shs30 million to Ms. Nakandi and Shs100 million to the JCRC SACCO.