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The Speaker of Parliament calls for support to health research; Efforts of the Vaccine Interest group in Uganda (VIG)

By Stephen Mugamba

The Speaker, Rt. Hon. Rebecca Kadaga at the VIG dialogue.

Photo by Solomon Murungi

The Speaker of the Parliament of Uganda Rt. Hon. Rebecca Kadaga has requested the Parliamentary HIV Committee and the Budget committee to consider a vote in the 2019/2020 national financial budget to support health research in the country. Kadaga was presiding over the high level parliamentary dialogue focusing on HIV Vaccine research in Uganda which was held in the Parliamentary Members Lounge on Tuesday 5th June, organized by the Parliamentary Forum on quality health service delivery in partnership with the Vaccine Interest Group in Uganda (VIG).

The VIG is a self-coordinated body that brings together research institutions involved in HIV vaccine research in Uganda. The Member organizations of the VIG include; Makerere University Walter Reed Project (MUWRP), Uganda Virus Research Institute – International AIDS Vaccine Initiative – HIV Vaccine Program (UVRI-IAVI), Medical Research Council/Uganda Virus Research Institute and London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine Uganda Research Unit (MRC/UVRI and LSHTM), Makerere University Johns Hopkins University Research Collaboration (MU-JHU) and the Joint Clinical Research Center (JCRC).

The dialogue comprised of presentations from Dr. Hannah Kibuuka, the Executive Director of Makerere University Walter Reed Project (MUWRP), Dr. Francis Kiweewa, the Head of Science and Research Affairs at MUWRP and Prof. Pontiano Kaleebu, the Director of UVRI and MRC/UVRI and LSHTM Uganda Research Unit and  founder of the UVRI-IAVI HIV Vaccine Program

The presentations highlighted the current status of HIV prevalence in the country; global and local progress made in HIV vaccine research as well as Uganda’s role on the search for an HIV vaccine.

The members of parliament in a dialogue with scientists from the Vaccine Interest Group

In her remarks, the Speaker appreciated the organizers of the dialogue and reiterated the need for an HIV vaccine. “I greatly welcome the Hon. Members of Parliament who have attended this dialogue. I also welcome the scientists from the Vaccine Interest Group for coming to Parliament to share this important information about HIV vaccine research”, said Kadaga. “For sure, Uganda needs an HIV vaccine because this will immensely help in stabilizing the life of the Ugandans who are battling with the threats brought about by the HIV virus”.

“The Parliamentary HIV AIDS Committee and Budget committee members are here with us, as we plan for the next financial year’s budget starting this October, they should consider a vote for health research in our country”

Commenting about some proposed research, the speaker specifically appreciated the VIG for the planned work and challenged them to focus such studies in the areas with the biggest HIV burden.  “I am happy to hear that you are going to carry out studies in Masaka, how I wish you would also target HIV high risk spots in the country such as fishing communities around Lake Victoria” She commented.  “We will walk with the scientists all the way until we move closer to the HIV vaccine, but we are also aware that apparently, HIV research doesn’t share a significant portion from the national budget”, she added.

The Speaker requested the members of the Parliamentary Budget Committee and Members of the Parliamentary HIV committee in attendance to consider a vote for Health research in the next national budget cycle that would open up in October.  She said, “The Parliamentary HIV AIDS Committee and Budget committee members are here with us, as we plan for the next financial year’s budget starting this October, they should consider a vote for health research in our country”. The Speaker’s statement was welcomed with a thunderous clap from both the members of the Vaccine Interest Group and all the Parliamentarians in attendance.

The dialogue sparked a number of questions from the members of parliament in attendance on areas such as  drug resistance and how it develops in among HIV patients on ARV drugs;  ARV regimens  and whether or not they can treat recombinant HIV viruses and on efforts that have been put in place regarding HIV prevention. Members of parliament were also interested in knowing how volunteers are recruited to participate in HIV vaccine research as well as the available strategies to disseminate research findings.

The parliamentarians advised that HIV information campaigns should be re-invigorated and also pledged to continue pressing the government to build structures that can handle complex HIV research.