The Uganda government will not continue begging world powers for vaccines to protect Ugandans from mass death as a result of the covid 19 pandemic.
So, as scientists and researchers in Uganda continue to develop a locally-made vaccine, government has in the meantime decided to approve available herbal medicines that have shown hope to cure symptoms of covid 19.
To bypass the World Health Organization rules, Uganda has approved covidex herbal medicine as a “supplementary drug but not as a cure of covid 19” although the manufacturer says it can heal coronavirus.
Covidex was developed by Professor Patrick Engeu Ogwang, the head of the Pharmacy Department at PHARMBIOTRACT (Pharm – Biotechnology and Traditional Medicine Centre) at Mbarara University of Science and Technology (MUST).
In a surprise move, Dr David Nahamya, the Executive Director of National Drug Authority (NDA) on Tuesday June 29 said they had licensed covidex to be sold at drug outlets as a “supportive treatment for viral infections but not as a cure of covid 19.”
The NDA on June 14 issued a strong statement advising the general populace not to use covidex because it had not been approved.
Mbarara university claims covidex was leaked to the market before approval. Mbarara University, which has also produced a sanitizer before, is being funded by government to manufacture a covid 19 drug.
Covidex has become popular among Ugandans after some users confirmed that the product had healed them of covid 19. The cost of a 20ml-bottle of covidex has rised from 3,000/= to 50,000/= in a period of just a month.
By Wednesday morning, various reports put the price at over Shs100,000 with a serious case in Jinja where it’s said it may even reach a record Shs200,000 per bottle within a week.
Jumia, Uganda’s online shopping mall, posted a stabilised price of Shs80,000 per bottle.
“Big Pharma told me to stop my research…I refused and prayed to God to guide me,” said Ogwang.
In Africa, up to 80 percent of the population uses traditional medicine for primary health care.
Prof. Ogwang and his team conducted extensive research into five herbal plants that have an interesting assemblage of antiviral and immune modulatory compounds.
Licensing of covidex follows President Yoweri Museveni’s frustration over failure to secure adequate supplies of vaccines so that Uganda can fully re-open its economy.
Mr Museveni, who was speaking at the opening of the World Health Summit virtual regional meeting on Sunday June 27 said that the current global rush to acquire vaccines by the rich at the expense of poor countries (vaccine nationalism) exhibited selfishness.
“We don’t need vaccine donations. We only need raw materials. Don’t worry we shall buy them. We don’t need donations,” Museveni scoffed at the global leaders attending the annual meeting, which Uganda is hosting for the first time.
Museveni said his government would in a year and a half complete its own vaccine, whose research has reportedly reached level five out of nine levels needed.
Clearance of covidex is light at the end of the tunnel for many Ugandans that had lost hope dealing with pandemic because of the outrageous medical charges and scarce hospital beds and limited oxygen in Ugandan hospitals.
Users of covidex say the herbal medicine works, but experts claim its production skipped established scientific protocol and approval.
In a recent interview, Prof Ogwang told this publication that they only needed shillings two billion for clinical trial to be able to place the drug on the market.
According to a statement issued by Prof Ogwang two weeks ago no clinical studies had been carried out on the drug to determine its efficacy.
The drug had only undergone laboratory tests on animals to determine active compounds and safety.
“Only a few people have used it so far to relieve their symptoms of COVID-19. More proof is needed to show it works against COVID-19. Clinical trials that prove as medicine or effective have not yet been done due to funding limitations,” said Prof Ogwang.
He said he had linked up with the pharmaceutical Society of Uganda and other scientists at Makerere University to carry out the clinical trials.
“I think they are yet to conduct the clinical trials. If the process is done and the results show positively, it will be approved by the regulator because for us, you know science does not lie,” said Dr Diana Atwine, the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Health.
“We depend so much on data, we depend on evidence, once that is done, we welcome this initiative. I am really glad that he (Prof Ogwang) is being supported and we hope this medicine will be able to help us.”
Covidex, however, has an intellectual dispute between its inventor, Prof Ogwang, and the research host institution, Mabarara University (MUST).
Professor Ogwang is an employee of MUST. It would be interesting to establish whether his contract of employment with the University had any stipulation concerning coming up with inventions.
Under the Industrial Properties Act of 2014, unless the contract expressly mentions otherwise, any inventions that the employee comes up with belong entirely to him. Mbarara University has recently issued a statement asserting intellectual property rights to the works of PHARMBIOTRACT, meaning that the University is already usurping ownership to Professor Ogwang’s work.
However, if this is work that the inventor came up with on his own volition without any support from his employer and outside of the administrative control of the employer, then he can make a good case for ownership of intellectual property rights (IPRs).
But under the Industrial Properties Act, if an employer neglects to pursue Intellectual Property rights registration within twelve months of the invention coming into place, the employee can assert full ownership of the invention and register such rights in his or her own names.
The twelve months’ time span is also applicable in the application for grant of patent rights in the sense that any patent rights that may accrue to covidex should be sought for within twelve months of the invention coming to light, otherwise it will no longer be considered novel.
Further, as a Least Developing Country under the World Trade Organization (WTO), Uganda is exempted from granting patent protection for pharmaceutical products – ironically – on the basis that it lacks the infrastructural or technical expertise to manufacture and, as such, enforce protection against infringement of pharmaceutical patents.
Professor Ogwang and his team, as long as they overcome the huddle as to who owns the intellectual property rights to covidex, will therefore have to think of other measures of protecting the invention other than through seeking a grant of patent rights in Uganda.
Uganda does not (yet) have legislation over use of traditional knowledge associated with genetic resources, otherwise, this would have been an easier route for him to exploit.
Secondly, the professor could, as an alternative, seek patent rights internationally through the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), but this is a long and expensive process.
Thirdly, he could consider protecting covidex as a trade secret. No hustles as far as formalities in registration.
President Museveni has, however, hinted on how government may respond to the intellectual dispute.
“We need to agree on the patenting. The one who brings the indigenous knowledge and makes it available to the wider world. But that knowledge isn’t his. It is community’s knowledge,” Mr Museveni said during the World Health Summit on Sunday.
Covidex is not the first drug that has been developed to cure COVID-19 in Uganda.
The Natural Chemotherapeutics Research Institute is in the process of developing a COVID-19 cure, UBV-01N. at its launch the drug had cured 53 out of 70 people and studies are on going.
Five herbal therapeutics have been developed by the Natural Chemotherapeutics Research Institute to assist in the treatment and management of COVID-19 in Uganda.
The products include; Warbugia Ugandensis, Cypress oil, Cypress herbal tea, propolis tincture and propolis throat spray. Another product that has been developed is the NCRI-NP syrup that is a concentrated version of the government’s UBV-01N COVID-19 therapeutic that is still undergoing research to determine proper dosages.
The therapeutic drug, UBV-01N, developed by a think-tank of local scientists – under the Presidential Initiative on Epidemics, is the first Ugandan natural chemotherapeutic medicine to go through an international level of the clinical trial process.
According to Dr Grace Nambatya Kyeyune, a medicinal chemist and lead investigator on the COVID-19 therapeutic study, the products which have been developed using locally grown herbs have been found to be effective in the treatment of COVID-19.
President Yoweri Kaguta launched the herbal treatment as Uganda’s first clinical trials for a coronavirus drug at Mulago Hospital in Kampala.