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Building higher level skills to drive development in Africa: The case of the RUFORUM Doctoral Regional Training Programmes

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Africa still lacks the required human capacity to respond to critical development challenges. Skills are inadequate in many areas from primary to tertiary level, and vocational training. There is need to develop high-level skills, institutional capacities, critical technical skills, and resources in key investment areas. The current situation is a major constraint to the implementation of development programmes and continental frameworks hence the foreseen delayed emergence of African counties as knowledge economies. Progress has so far been made by several regional stakeholders to identify the key critical soft and hard skills that are necessary to drive the Africa Agenda 2063. With this, educational institutions being the main actors in the skills, competencies and technological development value chains, are expected to transform and realign their interventions to develop the high-level skills needed to deliver Africa Agenda 2063. The Regional Universities Forum for Capacity Building in Agriculture (RUFORUM) responded by commissioning an institutional and competence analysis of its then 10 member universities to document strengths and weaknesses, status of facilities, human resources/expertise and experiences to map out the niche areas as well as institutional comparative strengths and weaknesses. Other studies also identified skills and competence gaps in students graduating from African universities. A key outcome of this process was the adoption of strong course-based doctoral training that involved engagement with other leading experts in and outside Africa in the training. In 2008, RUFORUM launched the coursework-based doctoral regional training programmes, and has since supported the establishment of seven such programmes, namely Agricultural Rural Innovations, Food Science and Nutrition, Soil and Water Management, Aquaculture and Fisheries, Agricultural Resource Economics, Plant Breeding and Biotechnology, and Dryland Resource Management. As part of building institutional capacity and recognizing excellence, some of programmes have become part of the African Higher Education Centres of Excellence. These include: African Centre of Excellence in Agro-ecology and Livelihood Systems (ACALISE) at Uganda Martyrs University in Uganda; Africa Center of Excellence for Climate Smart Agriculture and Biodiversity Conservation at Haramaya University in Ethiopia; African Centre of Excellence in Sustainable Agriculture and Agribusiness Management at Egerton University in Kenya; Africa Centre of Excellence in Aquaculture and Fisheries Science at Lilongwe University of Agriculture and Natural Resources (LUANAR) in Malawi; and Makerere Regional Center for Crop Improvement at Makerere University in Uganda. These programmes have supported training of over 420 doctoral students in Africa who are now contributing to the development of the African continent in different capacities in the agricultural sector and leadership positions. These programmes remain relevant today and are inspiring the development of other regional training programmes to fill the required skills and knowledge gaps in the continent.

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Agriculture & Environment

Prolonged use of Traditional Medicines in Malaria Treatment Damages Body Tissues-Study

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A screenshot of the DESAT research dissemination by Makerere University researchers on 16th June 2021 showing; Vernomia amygdalina (Muluswa), Warbugia ugandensis (Atiko) and Abrus precatorius (Osito) species used to treat malaria in Tororo district, Eastern Uganda.

By Jane Anyango

A study funded by the Government of Uganda through the Makerere University Research and Innovations Fund (Mak-RIF) in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences (CAES) has found that prolonged use of herbal medicines affects body organs.

Researchers recommend that traditional medicines should not be used for more than 14 days. The need for regulation and strengthening quality assurance along the value chain to reduce risks associated with the use of herbal medicines has been emphasized.

This was revealed during the virtual research dissemination workshop of the RIF 1/CAES/025 project titled, “Development of   Safe and Efficacious Anti-Malarial drug from Traditional Medicine (DESAT)” on 16th June 2021.

DESAT is an interdisciplinary and multi-institutional research project led by Prof. John Steven Tabuti – an ethnobotanist from Makerere University’s Department of Environmental Management  in the College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.

Co investigators are Dr. Alice Nabatanzi  from the College of Natural Sciences (CoNAS), Cissy Nambejja, Senior Research Officer, Ministry of Health, Natural Chemotherapeutics Research institute, Prof.  Paul Waako, Vice Chancellor  Busitema University and Micheal R Mutyaba, Manager  Traditional and Complementary Medicine,  National Drug Authority. Other team members from CoNAS are Stanley Ofwono (Laboratory Technician), Diana Sitenda (Student) and  Olivia Maganyi (Para taxonomist).

Presenting the project results, the   Principal Investigator   Prof. John Steven Tabuti said the project undertook research in Tororo district and gathered data to determine the commonly used plant material for the treatment  of malaria  and the safety profiles of selected  species.

“We found through this study that the three species that we investigated were reasonably safe to use in a period of 14 days. Beyond 14 days, we have observed some negative impacts on the organs of the animals.  

One of the effects was on the kidney, another, was a clot in the stomach, and there was also some ulcers in the stomach, and death of some cells in the liver. This suggests that these traditional herbs are not safe. Some of the results have not yet come back, which should tell us if we should be very conscious.

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The 2020 COVID-19 Non-Pharmaceutical Containment Measures – Adherence and Impact on Livelihoods in Rural Uganda

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Graphs from the survey report showing the impact of the COVID-19 lockdown on household income for Rural and Peri-Urban settings. By Dr. Dan Kajungu and MUCHAP/IMHDSS Team.

By Dr. Dan Kajungu and MUCHAP/IMHDSS Team

Uganda is currently experiencing a second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic with an upsurge of cases. The country registered an 81% increase in the number of COVID-19 cases between March and April 2021, which indicates resurgence or another wave in the pandemic. From 200 cases per day in April, now the country is recording over 500 cases per day. The vaccines uptake has improved only recently, and the population has ignored the Ministry of Health (MoH) Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) meant to contain transmission. Since March 2021, when the COVID-19 AstraZeneca vaccine was introduced, about 541,569 persons have so far been vaccinated.

On 6th June, new control measures were announced to mitigate the transmission. The Makerere University Centre for Health and Population Research (MUCHAP) which runs a longitudinal population-based cohort of Iganga and Mayuge districts (Iganga Mayuge Health and Demographic Surveillance Site) conducted a community survey to understand how citizens responded to the non-pharmaceutical interventional measures, and the impact on their livelihood. This survey was part of the routine community surveys that a typical health and demographic surveillance site conducts to understand the population dynamics in population cohorts. The hybrid survey involved about 2,000 households in rural and peri-urban settings using a questionnaire that adopted some questions from the Wellcome Trust COVID-19 tool. It was a hybrid of on-phone and physical interviews conducted between July and August 2020 right after the relaxation of restriction in Uganda. Community based surveys provide information on what to expect when piloting and implementing interventions in populations. In addition to the demographic and household characteristics, questions sought to understand the extent of community adherence to COVID-19 control measures and probed about the impact on socio-economic and access to health services.

Adherence to preventive measures: The survey found that 94% of the respondents adhered to COVID-19 non-medical control measures that were enforceable by security personnel. It was different for non-pharmaceutical measures that were largely dependent on individual enforcement or discipline and this averaged at 43% of the respondents. Six in ten respondents reported doing most of their work from home and half (50%) avoided seeking medical care at health facilities during lockdown.

The non-pharmaceutical guidelines included using preventive actions like social-distancing, hand washing with soap, the use of alcohol-based hand sanitizing gels as well as wearing of face masks. Citizens were encouraged to stay at home with the exception of essential workers who rendered critical services. Some community members could not adhere, not because they do not take it as a priority but because of the cost implications.

Socio-economic impact: There was change in the living arrangement in 12% of the households mostly because someone moved out or into the household. Community members reported a reduction (64%) in the income for household members with some experiencing a complete stop in earnings (6%). Residents in rural settings reported more reduction in income compared to Peri-urban residents (78% vs 74%). There are seemingly unique circumstances that need to be considered as interventions and decisions are made. For instance, it should not be surprising that a household cannot afford to have a bar of soap, a face mask, an alcohol-based hand sanitizing gel and social distance because of the living structures. In some cases, even accessing water is a luxury for some homes. There are some homesteads that are unable to grow food or earn an income from selling cash crops because they leased their pieces of land for large scale sugarcane growing 3 or 4 years ago, with just a house and a few feet of compound to spare. Unfortunately, such individuals have no access to social media where they can express their predicament.

The survey further found out that during the 2020 lockdown period, there was a general increase in violence against men, children, and women. There were cases of child neglect as well as marital problems. The survey found that 53% of the respondents reported increase in marital problems, while violence against women during the lockdown was reported by 51% of the respondents and was more common among rural residents compared to their Peri-urban counterparts. Residents could not access what they considered essential needs like transport and education services, which were directly affected by government directives and other community services. Communication was the most affected essential service reported.

Access to Health Services: 26% of the interviewed community members who were on daily medication due to a chronic or long-term condition reported running out of drugs during lockdown. Non-affordability due to the cost was the main reason in 54% of respondents, while 19% reported cases of stock-outs at both public and private health facilities and 10% were restricted by lockdown measures.

In another review of the immunisation records at Busowubi Health Centre III in Iganga district, it was clear that during the lockdown, utilisation of immunization services was severely affected (manuscript is undergoing peer review). Children did not complete their scheduled vaccine doses which calls for catch up vaccination drives. People could not go to health facilities because of fear of acquiring infection and restricted movements of boda-boda.

Please see Downloads for the detailed report.

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Artificial Intelligence Capacity in Sub-Saharan Africa – Compendium Report

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Artificial Intelligence Capacity in Sub-Saharan Africa – Compendium Report, January 2021

Makerere University in Uganda formed the AI & Data Science Research Group, which examines various areas related to AI and data science such as ML methods, computer vision and predictive analytics. The group has conducted research on automated diagnosis of crop and human diseases, auction design for mobile commodity markets, analysis of traffic patterns in African cities, and the use of telecoms and remote sensing data for anticipating the spread of infectious disease, to name a few.

Institution-specific research groups and activities

Robotics and Autonomous Intelligence

  • The Robotics, Autonomous Intelligence and Learning (RAIL) Laboratory (Wits);
  • Wits Institute of Data Science (WIDS) (Wits);
  • Computational Intelligence Research Group (UP);
  • Automating Robot Design for General Applications (University of Cape Town) (UCT);
  • Guided Self-Organisation in Artificial Complex Systems (UCT); and
  • Spatiotemporal models for Biosurveillance (Makerere).

Health and Biology

  • Machine Learning for Cancer Detection (NUL);
  • Nature Inspired Computing Optimisation Group (NICOG) (UP);
  • Prediction of Co-infection of TB and HIV using Computational Intelligence Methodologies (UniSwa);
  • An Expert System for Malaria Diagnosis Using Fuzzy Cognitive Map Engine (Best Paper Award) IEEE-IST Africa Botswana (UniSwa);
  • Multi-Target Regression Prediction on Cervical Cancer for evaluation of Performance Measures (UniSwa);
  • A Framework for Early di!erential diagnosis of tropical confusable diseases using the fuzzy cognitive map engine (UniSwa); and
  • Machine learning-based detector for cervical cancer (Makerere).

Agriculture and Disaster management

  • Early Warning System for Disaster Preparedness (MUST);
  • Forecasting crops using drones (UWC);
  • WineTech (UWC);
  • Disease surveillance – mobile monitoring of crop disease (Makerere);
  • Automated Malaria diagnosis (Makerere);
  • Computational prediction of famine (Makerere);
  • Auction design for agricultural commodity trading (Makerere); and
  • A portable deep-learning-based diagnostic platform for passion fruit diseases (Makerere).

Click here to access the full report

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