By Julius Mugaga Tukacungurwa/Umoja Standard.
Makerere University: College of Veterinary Medicine, Animal Resources and Biosecurity (CoVAB) on Friday kickstarted stakeholders’ engagement on proposed taught PhD programme that is aimed at providing a sustainable solution to neglected and emerging zoonoses.
For the past decade, Uganda has been experiencing pandemics one after the other but efforts to manage them have been slow arising from limited number of professionals in that field adding to lack of equipment to use.
It is against this background that CoVAB’s Department of Biosecurity, Ecosystems and Veterinary Public Health envisioned to propose the first ever taught PhD in Global Biosecurity & Ecosystems Health (GLOBECO) with an aim of producing solution-oriented scientists/professionals to counter such shocks.
*Zoonotic diseases are those caused by harmful germs like viruses, bacterial, parasites, and fungi and they include Coronavirus, Ebola and other hemorrhagic fevers, swine and bird flu. These are a threat to both animals and human.
About the Program.
A proposed taught PhD in GLOBECO programme will run for minimum 3-5 years with course works, laboratory and field work.
It is designed in a way that its products can handle high burden of infectious diseases, outbreaks, climate change, bridge knowledge and skill gap, evidence-based interventions, research, capacity building, training and others.
It is geared towards human capital development, provide post-doctoral fellowship, to administer and manage bioterrorism related threats.
It so far has 14 students, 6 with PhDs, 6 with Masters and 2 postdoctoral fellows.
The curricular is expected to be submitted by January 2023 and advertised mid next year in order to receive the first cohort in the August in-take.
The programme requires professionals to attend and publish at least four seminars, review papers in bio-security, minimum conduct of one year laboratory work, thesis writing and others.
Stakeholders in this new development include National Curriculum Development Centre (NCDC), National Council for Higher Education (NCHE), Makerere University College of Education and External Studies (CEES) and College of Health Sciences, Ministry of Health, MAAIF, Ministry of Water and Environment and others.
This Program development is being funded by Norwegian Government that is also funding the ongoing Climate change and Infectious Diseases Management a one Health Approach, (CIDIMOH) project.
Speaking to media after the engagement, Prof. Clovice Kankya the Head of Department of Biosecurity, Ecosystems and Veterinary Public Health at College of Veterinary Medicine, Animal Resources and Biosecurity (CoVAB) stressed that the taught PhD has come at the right time when the country is grappling with a high burden of zoonotic diseases and so it will equip cadres to handle and mitigating the surge.
“We have a number of disease outbreaks not only Ebola, we’ve had Rift valley fever, Anthrax, brucellosis, Tuberculosis, Covid-19 so it is important to have professionals who are trained in managing issues of Biosecurity and continuous emerging pandemics”. Said Prof. Kankya.
Mr. Kankya stated that the programme will involve students who are creative, innovative and able to deliver a product. ‘The PhD will have a number of tracks tailored to address innovations like vaccine development which has been at a low pace as well as substituting imported ones’.
He revealed that at approval, the programme will be cross-cutting to enrol professional from fields of Gender, Sociology, Social Anthropology, Rural Development, Agriculture, Plant Science, Ecosystems Health, Wildlife, Veterinary, Public Health, Environmental Health, Occupation and environment health and others.
“We are going to focus on a number of tracks to even include engineering and architectural design so that we have these engineering controls that are tailored to Biosecurity issues well addressed in this Doctoral programme”. Prof. Kankya.
Dr. Grace Baguma the Director of National Curriculum Development Centre (NCDC) implored brain-children of this programme to ensure the proposed taught PhD not only equip scholars with knowledge but also impact the community by having the knowledge providing solutions facing communities in line with outbreaks.
“PhD so what? The so what question should be in the value addition that we take to the people but also to ourselves and manufacturing of medicines, vaccines, the efforts to show how people can control themselves and others”. Said Ms. Baguma.
She implored professionals who will enroll for this programme to work around recommendations of their research and actual do to bridge the gaps exposed during their findings than relying on superpowers at all time.
Citing an example of Ebola, Ms. Baguma believed that professionals would set up research centers in different regions of this country where the public would go and get ideas on how to control themselves from contacting it.
“That’s why this particular PhD is talking about science and social aspects (relationship of animals and human beings) and indeed with Ebola, let them begin to find solutions to the continued breaking of the disease in Uganda as researchers/scientists”. Ms. Baguma highlighted.
To Prof. John David Kabasa from the College of Veterinary Medicine, Animal Resources and Biosecurity emphasized that the taught PhD should prepare scientists to make discovery, coming with products out of knowledge.
“Now that you know that there is this virus of Ebola, what can a scientist do to get a vaccine for it?. How do we unpack these molecules, reconstruct them and get out diagnostic tool? How do we work out and re-engineer and get out a drug? . This is what happened during Covid-19, people who had equipment in US and Europe quickly started making a vaccine”. He stated.
He assured that Ugandan scientists had capacity but did not have equipment and that’s what binded application of their skills during the pandemic. He believed that ‘if they had such equipment at the time, they would be done with producing the Covid-19 vaccine by now’.
Mr. Kabasa emphasized that there is a great need for science that puts a product on the market and change the knowledge into a product-which is a knowledge value chain-a concept of a knowledge economy in the 21st Century.