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This article is part of the supplement: Health innovation in sub-Saharan Africa

Open Access Research

Science-based health innovation in Uganda: creative strategies for applying research to development

Sheila Kamunyori1, Sara Al-Bader1, Nelson Sewankambo2, Peter A Singer1 and Abdallah S Daar1*

Author Affiliations

1 McLaughlin-Rotman Centre for Global Health, at the University Health Network and University of Toronto, MaRS Centre, South Tower, Suite 406, 101 College Street, Toronto, Ontario, M5G 1L7, Canada

2 Makerere University College of Health Sciences, Kampala, Uganda

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BMC International Health and Human Rights 2010, 10(Suppl 1):S5  doi:10.1186/1472-698X-10-S1-S5

Published: 13 December 2010

Abstract

Background

Uganda has a long history of health research, but still faces critical health problems. It has made a number of recent moves towards building science and technology capacity which could have an impact on local health, if innovation can be fostered and harnessed.

Methods

Qualitative case study research methodology was used. Data were collected through reviews of academic literature and policy documents and through open-ended, face-to-face interviews with 30 people from across the science-based health innovation system, including government officials, researchers in research institutes and universities, entrepreneurs, international donors, and non-governmental organization representatives.

Results

Uganda has a range of institutions influencing science-based health innovation, with varying degrees of success. However, the country still lacks a coherent mechanism for effectively coordinating STI policy among all the stakeholders. Classified as a least developed country, Uganda has opted for exemptions from the TRIPS intellectual property protection regime that include permitting parallel importation and providing for compulsory licenses for pharmaceuticals. Uganda is unique in Africa in taking part in the Millennium Science Initiative (MSI), an ambitious though early-stage $30m project, funded jointly by the World Bank and Government of Uganda, to build science capacity and encourage entrepreneurship through funding industry-research collaboration. Two universities – Makerere and Mbarara – stand out in terms of health research, though as yet technology development and commercialization is weak. Uganda has several incubators which are producing low-tech products, and is beginning to move into higher-tech ones like diagnostics. Its pharmaceutical industry has started to create partnerships which encourage innovation.

Conclusions

Science-based health product innovation is in its early stages in Uganda, as are policies for guiding its development. Nevertheless, there is political will for the development of STI in Uganda, demonstrated through personal initiatives of the President and the government’s willingness to invest heavily for the long term in support of STI through the Millennium Science Initiative. Activities to support technology transfer and private-public collaboration have been put in motion; these need to be monitored, coordinated, and learned from. In the private sector, there are examples of incremental innovation to address neglected diseases driven by entrepreneurial individuals and South-South collaboration. Lessons can be learned from their experience that will help support Ugandan health innovation.