Good morning members of the Press.
I welcome you all to this press conference conducted via Zoom in response to the COVID-19 lockdown. I hope you are all observing the guidelines given by the World Health Organisation and different Government Departments and Agencies to stay safe. Obviously it is difficult to convince you members of the press to stay home, but please do everything possible to stay safe. There have been many questions regarding the role of universities in the fight against COVID-19. Today we want to share with you what Makerere University is doing about COVID-19.
Makerere University was closed on 20th March 2020 following a presidential directive in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. All students and staff were sent home immediately, except very few international students, who failed to get means of going home, whom we are looking after on campus.
Makerere University has a long tradition of responding to health emergencies and epidemics. We were at theforefront of the response to HIV/Aids and Ebola and our contribution in both cases is known the world over. We have built enormous capacity at our College of Health sciences to respond to emerging diseases, including the COVID-19 pandemic. Our 350 members of staff at the College of Health Sciences work very closely with the Ministry of Health.All of these continue to offer critical services to non-COVID illnesses, COVID19 national task force, clinical management for patients with COVID 19, as well as clinical research on the evolving clinical presentations of the COVID19 disease.
RESPONSE TO COVID-19
In Uganda, the first case of COVID was reported on 21stMarch 2020 and the numbers have since grown to 55 within one month. The Minister of Health established a 17-member multidisciplinaryscientific advisory committee composed of experienced public health, clinical, biomedical, social andbehavioural scientists to advise the Ministry on the overall strategy to ensure an evidence-based strategy and implementation of the COVID response in Uganda. The majority of the members of thiscommittee are from Makerere University. The committee has extensively reviewed the globalliterature to inform the Ugandan policy and has also similarly assembled high priority evidence gapsfor which local data is needed to urgently inform the improvements in the COVID prevention and management in Uganda. The questions and priority interventions include development of new rapidtest diagnostics, to alleviate the anticipated severe shortage of test kits, which has been a majorchallenge globally. Other questions include tracking of the immunological response in relation to new treatment options based on plasma for COVID patients who have recovered as well as development of HERD Immunity to protect the communities from future resurgence of COVID.
Other questionsrevolve around enhanced treatments to reduce the severity of COVID disease and the need for moresophisticated intensive care, given the limited intensive care capacity in Uganda and the African region. The team has also identified the need to explore the socio-economic and health systemimpact of COVID in Uganda, to inform broader mitigation strategies. Below is a list of the priorityquestions:
- Development of a rapid diagnostic test for CoVID19
- Validation of other non-WHO accredited tests for CoVID19
- Studies of HERD immunity/Immune response andimplications for future prevention of COVID recurrence as well as clinical management
- Chloroquine/Hydroxychloroquine and other treatments
- Modelling of COVID19 epidemic in Uganda to inform planning and intervention mix over time
- Environmental sampling for public health risk evaluation
- Supporting the NIH biobank to acquire and store biological specimen for CoVID19
- Tracking health service utilization and COVID19 impacton health systems
- Sequencing of the SARS-CoV2 isolates among Ugandan CoVID19 patients
- Duration of viral shedding and Infectivity following recovery
- Effect of the Uganda COVID-19 treatment protocol on outcomes and associated factors
- Chloroquine for Prevention of Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) amongst healthcare workersinvolved in COVID patient care
- Hydroxychloroquine vs Chloroquine for Post Exposure Prophylaxis for Coronavirus Disease(COVID-19) amongst Ugandans exposed couple with viral loads.
- Efficacy and Safety of Corticosteroids in severe COVID-19 related pneumonia
- Hydroxychloroquine/AzithromAzithromycin vs Chloroquine alone for Treatment for Severe COVID-19 Pulmonary Infection.
Makerere University researchers have responded to the COVID-19 pandemic with innovations to address the challenges I have mentioned above. The innovations include the following:
- A rapid testing kit under development by a team led by Dr. MisakiWayengera. This kit should enable rapid testing for coronavirus and considerably lower the cost of testing currently standing at USD 65, which is obviously prohibitive for developing countries like Uganda.
- Diagnosis is a key strategy in pandemic control, enabling early detection of those infection and their isolation for treatment
- In the context of the on-going COVID19 pandemic, diagnosis has been problematic due to the global scarcity of the existing WHO approved test kits
- Moreover, the existing WHO approved kits for CoVID19 are premised on RT-PCR—detecting viral RNA. RT-PCR is itself an expensive platform (costing over US$65 per kit), requires a laboratory, demands technical expertise, and takes long (4-6 hours) to yield results.
- Thus, it is not amenable for point of care (POC) deployment in remote equatorial African settings, most without laboratory capacity
What we are doing
- Our group at MakCHS has over the past 15 years build extensive expertise, experience and eco-systems across the academia, industry and public private partnerships for R & D of pathogen diagnostics
- We are developing an affordable (costing < US$1), easy to use (requiring minimal expertise, user guide), rapid (yielding results within 2-5 minutes) POC test platform for COVID19 suited for use within remote equatorial African settings
- The swab-tube dipstick agglutination (STDS-AgX) SARS-CoV2 antigen test will utilize the nasopharyngeal sample collection swab, which is placed back into its tube containing reagents that detect the virus surface protein. On shaking, a positive result will be visualized as formation of particles (equivalent to what is seen when clear milk, goes bad)
- In addition, we shall develop two lateral flow test (LFT) platforms for detecting host-specific antibody responses against CoVID19 (IgM and IgG)
- Detection of COVID19 cases within epidemic/pandemic settings (STDS-AgX COVID19 Ag test)
- Screening of travelers for COVID19 (either STDS-AgX COVID19 Ag test or IgM LFA)
- Detection of asymptomatic COVID19 (STDS-AgX COVID Ag test and IgM LFA)
- Sero-prevalence studies to determine previous exposure (IgG LFA)
These home-grown assay platforms will enable Uganda and other African settings cost-effectively respond to the COVID19 pandemic. This particularly as the pandemic enters the exponential phase in many countries when many cases will emerge, and yet tests are scarce on the global scene
- Antibody (IgM and IgG) LFA (end of May, 2020)
- 1st STDS-AgX COVID19 (June 2020)
- The Epidemic Management Tent (EpiTent) developed by a team from the Resilient Africa Network (RAN), a project involving 16 universities in 11 african countries based in the School of Public Health and coordinated by Prof. Bazeyo. The EpiTent is used for isolation of patients with severe communicable diseases like Ebola and COVID-19 and it is approved by the USAID and the WHO;
- Development of a low-cost ventilator by a team involving researchers from the Resilient Africa Network, College of Engineering and Technology, College of Health Sciences and engineers from Kiira Motors Corporation. The team successfully conducted an engineering test of the ventilator on 10th April 2020 and it is now undergoing various validation tests before applying to the National Drug Authority and other certifying agencies for use on patients. The ventilator will considerably lower the cost of this very important facility from the current cost on the open international market, which ranges between USD 25,000 and 60,000. Development of the ventilator, which will cost approximately USD 5,000 is expected to be completed in the next four to eight weeks;
- Makerere University Health Services with support from Case Western Reserve University has built capacity to perform PCR based (molecular) tests for COVID-19. They will be able to conduct 40,000 tests and they are finalizing the details for implementation;
- Makerere University is partnering with several local and international research institutions and universities in the search for solutions to the COVID-19 pandemic.
RESPONSES BY OTHER DISCIPLINES
Faculty from the Colleges of Health Sciences and Engineering, design, Art and Technology are at the forefront of responding to the pandemic. However, faculty from other disciplines are making a contribution too. Several of these faculty are making a contribution to raising awareness among the community and providing correct information where fake news has raised alarms like in the case of the claim that COVID-19 is caused by the 5G Technology. Management of a pandemic like COVID-19 cannot be achieved by health science alone, societal behavior is key, hence the role of humanities and social sciences and I am glad that faulty at Makerere University from various disciplines are making their contribution.
Let me end my remarks by thanking our faculty from the College of Health Sciences, who have joined the rest of the health workers in Uganda at the frontline in fighting the spread of COVID-19 disease. I also thank all our scientists who are looking for local solutions to the pandemic and we are glad to share any research results with the international community. Makerere is committed to contributing to knowledge creation and innovations for the good of humanity. We will continue along this path because this is what makes us a truly global university. I thank all of you members of the press for joining this conference. We will now take some questions, which our researchers will be happy to answer.
VC Statement on the Fire Outbreak at the Main Building and Resumption of Classes for Finalists
1.0 REPORT ON THE FIRE OUTBREAK AT THE MAIN BUILDING
In the morning of Sunday 20th September 2020, at around half past midnight, a police patrol team at Makerere University noticed smoke coming out of the roof of the Makerere University Main Administration Building. The patrol team alerted the OC Makerere Police Station, who had been deployed at Nateete Police Station for the night. The OC Makerere Police Station at the time was in the CCTV control room and he zoomed the CCTV cameras to the Main Building and indeed the cameras could show that there was smoke coming out of the building. The OC Station alerted the Makerere University Chief Security Officer who rushed to the Mani Building immediately and arrived at the building about 12:47 am. He first saw smoke coming out of the roof above the offices of the Public Relations Department and soon after fire started coming out of the roof. He immediately alerted the control room to request the Fire Brigade to rush to the scene. The Chief Security Officer also alerted the Vice Chancellor and Acting Deputy Vice Chancellor, who both rushed to the scene. The Fire Brigade arrived at the scene at 1:10 am initially with 2 fire engines which did not have the capacity to jet water to the roof of the building. After about 30 minutes more fire engines with better capacity arrived, but by this time the fire had spread through a big part of the roof. The Fire Brigade managed to subdue the fire at around 4:00 am., but after the entire roof of the building had collapsed and the entire top floor of the building and the entire Finance Department had been burnt. The fire engines experienced a challenge with lack of a fire hydrant within and in the vicinity of the University and had to fetch water from the hydrants at the Fire Brigade Headquarters.
When it appeared to the Fire Brigade that the fire had been completely extinguished, despite smoke still coming off from the Central Registry, they left the site. Unfortunately, fire again broke out in the Council Room at 8:00 pm but the Fire Brigade arrived within 15 minutes and put out the fire within one hour. The Fire Brigade has been on standby on site, fighting small fires throughout the night.
The Main Administration Building is 79 years old, having been completed in 1941. It is an iconic building and is the symbol of higher education in Uganda and the entire East and Central African Region.
The building housed the offices of the Vice Chancellor, the Deputy Vice Chancellor (Finance and Administration, the University Secretary, The University Bursar, the Directorate of Human Resources, the Directorate of Internal Audit, the Public Relations Office and the Council Room. The Printery, which is located in the basement of the building was not affected. The building had been fitted with fire extinguishers for fire fighting but these became unusable since the fire started from the roof. Being an old building, it had not been fitted with fire alarms and water sprinklers.
The Main Building is guarded by the University’s security services and the Uganda Police. At the time of the fire outbreak, the officers on duty were inside the building near the entrance and they apparently did not notice the problem until they were alerted by the Chief Security Officer. Those officers are now under Police custody. The cause of the fire is not yet known. The Criminal Investigations Directorate and the Directorate of Forensic Services of the Uganda Police have commenced investigations. Security on main campus has been strengthened.
Practically all the documents in the Directorates of Finance, Human Resource, including the Central Registry, and the Directorate of Internal Audit were destroyed. Fortunately, all hard copies of the financial documents for previous financial years had been moved to the archives, which was not affected by the fire. Similarly all old files in the Central Registry had been moved to the archives. Information of the staff in service has been digitalized and is safely kept on servers, which are not in the Main Building.
The financial documents for the Financial Year 2019/2020 are currently being audited by the Auditor General and were safely evacuated from the Main Building. With the move to the Integrated Finance Management System (IFMS) all financial transactions of the University are automatically backed up electronically at the Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development. In addition, with the recent financial decentralization at the University, a considerable percentage of the financial documents are kept in the Colleges and administrative Units. All revenue collection including student fees, rent and other payments are received directly by URA, which then transfers the money to the consolidated fund. All payments are similarly made through the IFMS. Management therefore does not keep cash in offices as alleged by some social media reports and there was no loss of cash in the fire. Documents from the offices of the Vice Chancellor, the Deputy Vice Chancellor (F&A) and some of the documents in the Office of the University Secretary which were not razed in the fire were also evacuated. Management is compiling the value of all property lost in the fire, based on the University Inventory and Board of Survey report, which was concluded at the end of August 2020.
All students related data including academic records is stored digitally on the Academic Information Management System (AIMS), which is also backed up at the Ministry of Science and Technology. Hard copy student information is kept in the Senate Building.
The First Lady and Minister of Education and Sports, Hon. Janet Kataaha Museveni, accompanied by the Minister of State for Higher Education and the Permanent Secretary visited Makerere University yesterday and addressed members of Council and Management and pledged Government support to restore the building. During the night of the fire, H.E. The President called the Vice-Chancellor several times requesting for an update on the efforts to extinguish the fire and on the causes of the fire. I thank H.E. The President and the First Lady and Minister of Education and Sports for the concern they have shown during this difficult time. I similarly thank the Chancellor, Chairperson and Vice Chairperson of Council as well as other members of Council who responded immediately after this most unfortunate incident unfolded.
This incident has reminded us about two important issues, the need to insure our installations and the need to install fire hydrants on campus. At the height of fires at educational institutions, Council decided that the University should insure all key installations. Due to financial constraints, Council however decided to begin with health insurance for staff and budget for insurance of buildings in the subsequent year. Management requested the Chief Government Valuer made a valuation of the major installations, including the Main Building (UGX 15,434,782,500), the Main Library (UGX 21,569,690,854) and the Senate Building (UGX 20,508,533,625) and submitted a report on 29th November 2019, for purposes of insurance. At this time of receiving the report the budget for the next financial year had already been completed,. Management is in the process of negotiating with the Ministry of Finance, Planning and Economic Development for provision of funds for insurance of these installations. For several years, Management has budgeted for overhaul of the University’s obsolete underground water reticulation system, including installation of fire hydrants, but no money has been approved in the budgets for this purpose. Management will continue engaging Government on this issue.
The University is now faced with the task of restoring this iconic building in time for the centenary celebrations due in 2022. Management will engage Government and other stakeholders on this very important task. We are grateful to our alumni and well-wishers from around the globe for their show of sympathy and for the desire to contribute to the restoration of the building. We will inform all stakeholders about accounts to which to send their contributions when this is finalized.
Plans are under way to relocate the offices previously in the Main Building as soon as possible. It is proposed that CTF 2 will be used for this purpose.
2.0 PREPARATIONS FOR RECEIVING FINAL YEAR STUDENTS
Arrangements are under way to receive the final year students as directed by Government. Final year medical students will resume studies for the second semester on 3rd October 2020 and end on 28th November 2020. The rest of the final year undergraduate students and the graduate students will report on 17th October 2020 and end on12th December 2020. Arrangements are under way to receive the students. It is proposed that students who were ordinarily residing in halls of residence will be admitted in the halls of residence and the non-residents will continue residing off campus. This is because the capacity of the halls of residence cannot accommodate all of them. Announcements will be made to all the students in good time to allow foreign students undergo quarantine if necessary.
After receipt of clearance by the National Council for Higher Education (NCHE), teaching for the rest of the students will commence on 15th October 2020. Arrangements for this are under way.
Prof. Barnabas Nawangwe
VC Statement on Devastating Fire Incident at Makerere University
It is a very sad day for the Makerere University community, probably the saddest day in the history Makerere University. Our Iconic building which is the symbol of knowledge and education not only at Makerere University, but also in the East and Central region of Africa has been gutted by fire. The top floor that was housing a lot of our documents has been burnt. These include the; Finance, Internal Audit, Human Resources, Central Registry, University Secretary and Public Relations departments.
I would like to inform all our stakeholders that not all is lost. We are comforted that with the modern digital era, we had digitalized most of the documents.
The biggest task before us is to rebuild this icon of knowledge. With respect to its unique architectural masterpiece, we are planning to rebuild it, without changing its original beauty.
I thank the fire brigade for responding quickly and trying their best to contain the fire. The Uganda Police that has been on the ground since the unfortunate incident happened is still investigating the matter to establish the cause of the accident.
I convey my sympathies to the leadership, staff, students, alumni and all friends of Makerere University and I would like to reassure you that we are going to do everything necessary to restore the Main Building to its original state.
I thank H.E Yoweri Kaguta Museveni the President of the Republic of Uganda and Visitor of Makerere University for his support throughout this devastating period. In the same spirit, I thank the First Lady who is also the Minister of Education and Sports Hon. Janet Museveni who came immediately this morning upon receipt of the sad news to assess the damage. I acknowledge her efforts to rebuild the Ivory Tower to its original form.
For more information on this matter, please follow the updates on Makerere University social media pages
We Build for the Future
Prof. Barnabas Nawangwe
Resumption of Teaching and Learning for Final Year CHS Students
Featured image: Members of the Makerere University College of Health Sciences Students Association (MAKCHSA) pose for a photo ahead of their 1st College Open Day and Alumni Convention held on 1st November 2019.
This is to inform all Final Year Students of the College of Health Sciences (CHS) that teaching and learning activities which were halted following the closure of education institutions in a bid to prevent the spread of COVID-19, will resume on Saturday 3rd October 2020.
You are therefore required to report to the Dean of Students for accommodation on 3rd October 2020 and to your respective Deans in the College of Health Sciences on 5th October 2020 for detailed academic and health-related information.
Note that you must strictly adhere to the Standard Operating Procedures put in place by the Ministry of Health to combat the spread of COVID-19 which include among others:
- Mandatory wearing of a clean mask covering the mouth and nose
- Social distancing
- Washing of hands regularly and/or sanitizing hands
Further note that the schedule of the remaining semester shall cover 8 weeks (5 weeks for teaching and learning and 3 weeks of examinations).
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