Press Briefing at The Media Centre, Kampala
by Hon. Dr. EliodaTumwesigye, Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation

Thursday 13th October 2016

1. Background

Science, Technology and Innovation (STI) is the cornerstone for human development and economic progress. We believe that by investing more in STI, we can achieve for Ugandans better health, adequate and more nutritious food, more jobs and higher household income, better climate adaptation as well as overall social and economic transformation. Science and technology is a primer for social change. Thus, the Government of Uganda has prioritised STI and made it an integral part of Uganda’s Vision 2040 and the National Development Plan 2015-2020. H.E. The President of the Republic of Uganda recently established a new Ministry of STI (MoSTI) in June 2016 as part of Government’s effort to use STI as the means to accelerating Uganda’s transition to middle income status as soon as possible as well as achieving inclusive growth and prosperity for tall he people of Uganda. MoSTI is seen as the main driver for the optimal functioning and performance of Uganda’s national innovation system. The Ministry is expected to play a key role in providing policy and regulatory guidance as well as coordinating funding for the advancement of Health, Science, Technology and Engineering Innovations among others in Uganda.

2. Why the visit?

The visit was intended to:
a.    Benchmark and share ideas on global best practices in the development and management of STI for sustainable national development.
b.    Identify opportunities for enhancing cooperation in STI between Uganda and the U.S Government and Non-Government Institutions.

3. When was the visit made?

The visit to the U.S.A was made from September 26 to October 5, 2016. During this time, three areas in the U.S. were visited, namely: Washington D.C., Boston & Cambridge in these State of Massachusetts as well as Seattle in the State of Washington.

4. Who were on the delegation?

The delegation included the Hon. Minister of STI (Dr. EliodaTumwesigye, MP), the Executive Secretary of the Uganda National Council for Science and Technology (UNCST) Dr Peter Ndemere and the Head of Research and Technology at UNCST, DrJulius Ecuru.

5. Who was visited and what was achieved?

The delegation visited more than 20 institutions and met and held discussions with more than 35 senior officials and staff of U.S. Government and Non-Governmentagencies and other institutions. See Annex 1 for the full list of persons and institutions visited. Those visited included:

a.    The Bill and Belinda Gates Foundation. The delegation met senior program officers/managers for Financial Services for the Poor, Agriculture Development, Nutrition, Family Planning, and Healthcare at the Foundation. The Foundation supports projects in Uganda worth more than US$ 40m. The Hon. Minister held a special meeting with Mr. Bill Gates, the Founder and Chairman of the Gates Foundation. The meeting was held at the headquarters of Global Good/Intellectual Ventures, an Institution supported by the Gates Foundation.In the meeting the Minister expressed Uganda’s appreciation for the Gates Foundation’s support to Ugandaespecially in health research, agricultural research, nutrition, family planning and financial inclusion. He also appreciated Gates Foundation’s Global programs targeting the low income countries including Uganda to improve immunization, health diagnostics, contraceptive technology as well as HIV, Malaria and TB control.  Dr. Elioda furtherthanked Mr. Bill Gates for supporting the Grand Challenges exploration and also for appreciating Uganda’s Scientists and Innovators while giving a Nelson Mandera Memorial lecture recently at the University of Pretoria. The Minister highlighted the importance of nurturing youth talent in science, technology and innovation, as well as promoting technologies and innovations that help smallholder farmers increase their agricultural productivity, and access to markets for their produce. Mr. Bill Gates praised the ingenuity of Ugandan scientists and young innovators, especially in areas of ICT, crop breeding and nutritional enhancement. He said that when he learnt of the threat to food security posed by the Banana Bacterial Wilt disease in Uganda, he funded the Ugandan Scientists to develop the disease resistant banana variety. He pledged continued support to Uganda’s researchers and innovators as well as the country’s health programs.

b.    The Minister also met and held talks with Ambassador Jimmy Kolker, the Deputy Secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. This is the equivalent of the State Minister of Health in Uganda. The Ambassador recognised Uganda as a leader in managing epidemics, including HIV/AIDS and Ebola. The Hon. Minister and Ambassador Kolker discussed opportunities for enhancing Uganda’s participation in research indispensable for Global Health Security and the fight against the potential for bio-terrorism. The Global Health Security Agenda (GHSA) is a global effort to minimise misuse of potentially dangerous pathogens such as Ebola and Anthrax. Of particular interest was the need to keep stockpiles of the small pox virus to be available for future developmentof more effective vaccines and other measures just in case some unscrupulous persons re-engineer the small pox virus and use it as bioweapon. The two parties also agreed to make a collective effort to prevent antimicrobial resistance, and share information on the safety of genetically modified organisms, whether for food or medicine.

c.    The Hon Minister and the delegation visited the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and met with the NIH Director, Dr. Francis Collins and other officials including Dr. Fauci of NIAID and Dr. Roger Glass, head of Forgarty Program among others. The meeting with Dr Collins discussed the bilateral science and research support, where more Ugandan scientists would be trained at the NIH. Dr. Peter Ndemere, the Executive Secretary of UNCST and Dr. Francis Collins, signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for the training of more Ugandans in biomedical research and product development. The NIH biomedical research funding commitment to Uganda in 2016 amounts to approximately US$ 41 million. Uganda is the second largest recipient of NIH grants, after South Africa.

d.    The delegation also met with the Associate Administrator of the USAID, Ambassador Alfonse Lenhardt, and his team. Ambassador Lenhardt was former U.S. Ambassador to the United Republic of Tanzania and also the East African Community. He is passionate about development in East Africa. Ambassador Lenhardt pledged USAID’s support, especially in renewable/clean energy, science education, agricultural development, health and nutrition. The Hon. Minister and the Ambassador made a commitment to involve each other in the process of developing a Ministry of STI strategy.

As mentioned above, the other persons, agencies and organisations met are listed in Annex 1. Other lessons learnt and opportunities identified for scientific cooperation broadly included the following:

i.    A number of other co-funding opportunities available for innovation were identified through the USAID Global Development Labs, the National Science Foundation and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

ii.    Opportunity for cooperation in materials science and nanotechnology was identified for Ugandan scientists to work with scientists atMassachusettes Institute of Technology (MIT) and the U.S. National Science Foundation. The Minister highlighted the need to cooperate in the use of nanotechnology to improve health diagnostics and advanced medical treatment of various diseases. At MIT, the Minister was shown innovations created by farmers in Pader and Soroti Uganda and told of the coomunity innovation centers MIT scientists are establishing in collaboration with Ugandans in various parts of Uganda.  

iii.    Independent scientific advice to government is necessary. Hence, the role of “think tanks” is important in building a strong innovation system.

iv.    Well structured STI funding institutions are crucial for generating new knowledge and facilitating the translation of that knowledge to innovations for societal use.

v.    The youth and universities have a huge potential to develop transformational technologies, if they are provided with the right environment and necessary resources and incentives to develop and nurture their creativity.

vi.    The strategy for innovation should cover both grassroots innovations as well as more upstream scientific work. A careful balance is necessary in resource limited settings.

7. What is the visit’s outcome so far?

a.    The MoSTI, working through UNCST and other relevant institutions are following up the opportunities identified for scientific cooperation. They are laying out strategies for building collaborative partnerships with the identified partners.  

b.    The lessons learnt on STI development are informing the ongoing processes of designing relevant STI programmes of MoSTI.

8. Acknowledgement

•    Government of Uganda for the support and facilitation;
•    U.S. Govt and Non Govt Institutions for receiving and fruitful discussions with the delegation;
•    Embassy of the Republic of Uganda in Washington D.C. for the hospitality.

Annex 1: List of persons and their institutions who met with the Hon. Minister’s delegation.

1.    Deputy Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services and his staff;
2.    Associate Administrator of the USAID and staff (particularly the Heads of Departments within the Global Development Labs at the USAID);
3.    President and CEO of the American Association for the Advancement Science;
4.    Chief Operating Officer and staff of the Global Knowledge Initiative;
5.    Science and Technology Advisor to the Secretary of the U.S. State Department;
6.    Director of the U.S. National Institutes of Health;
7.    Director of the Fogarty International Centre of the NIH;
8.    Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases of the NIH;
9.    Director of the National Institute of Mental Health of the NIH;
10.    Chief, Department of Clinical Bioethics of the NIH;
11.    Director and staff of the Department of Materials Science at the U.S. National Science Foundation;
12.    Director of International Affairs at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT);
13.    Dean for Innovations at the MIT;
14.    Head of the MIT-D Labs and colleagues;
15.    Executive Director, MIT Global Startup Labs & Africa Alliance;
16.    Executive Director, Legatum Entrepreneurship Centre at the MIT;
17.    Leadership of the Massachusetts General Hospital;
18.    The CAMTech Team at the Massachusetts General Hospital;
19.     Founder, Health Informatics Inc.
20.    Mr. Bill Gates, Co-Chairman of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation in Seattle,
21.    Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation senior program managers for Financial Services for the Poor, Agriculture Development, Nutrition, Family Planning, Healthcare, and  four Ugandans working at the Foundation.
22.    Senior Researchers at the University of Washington in Seattle, Washington;
23.    Deputy CEO and staff of the Global Good Inc.
24.    Managing Director and Research Director of Global Oncology at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre in Seattle, Washington.