Research, particularly during epidemics is under threat from political
directives that may lead to an increase in non-scientifically reviewed
decisions. The decisions according to Dr Tom Lutalo, the Deputy Director of the Uganda Virus Research Institute, is sometimes driven by
Uganda Virus Research Institute is a
government research institute with a mandate to engage in health research
pertaining to human infections and disease processes associated with or linked
to viruses. It provides expert advice and has several
national and international references and specialized laboratories. The
institute is expected to be a world centre for health research.
Dr Lutalo, who is also the Chair of The science and Ethics Committee at the institute, says political pressure is normally felt during the pandemic.
“Whenever there are pandemics, we realize
that researchers are propelled to begin the search for diagnostic tests, for
treatment and vaccines in earnest. I
have received calls as a chairperson about what they intend to do instead of
submitting protocols," he added
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Lutalo, also a Senior Investigator with the
Rakai Health Sciences Program was delivering a paper on the Integrity during pandemics/ public Health
emergencies reflections on COVID-19 research. He reveals that with the outbreak of
COVID-19, UVRI has evaluated fifty diagnostic kits brought by individuals of
manufacturers claiming to be of standard but only two were recommended to the
Ministry of health.
kits have been inserted. And those inserts read that particular kit was evaluated in
the lab, evaluated by a manufacturer and sensitivity and specificity is 100 per cent.
Remember that at the institute, we have to evaluate them as per the protocol
which was approved by Uganda Council for Science and Technology.”
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“This will definitely have implications for
patients, clinicians and potentially the government policy” warned Lutalo
to Lutalo, there is a lot of substandard research amid the rush to publish. His
revelation comes just weeks after the market was flooded with kits for rapid
diagnostic of COVID-19. A number of
individuals seeking to travel abroad have been prevented from travel because
of what appeared like inaccurate or falsified tests. Some have been tested for and
found to be COVID-19 positive.
like Uganda Virus Research Institute (UVRI) like other International research
bodies have not been spared of the pressure emerging from the outbreak of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic.
have found that beyond its social and economic
impacts, the COVID pandemic is redefining the relationships between science,
public policy, and society. Some of the political leaders under pressure have
not followed the scientists’ advice on major decisions like which drugs, and
what procedure should be followed to allows treatment.
In Uganda some of the treatments like CoVIDEX and Covilyce
produced from Mbarara University of Science and Technology and Gulu University
were allowed for use before clinical trials.
Authority Initially banned COVIDEX from drugs shops. But later allowed it
following the high-level political intervention.
According to Lutalo, COVID-19 has had one of the largest numbers
of clinical studies with over six thousand four hundred registered.
pandemics and epidemics when I checked, we did not have that high a number of
registered studies when I checked” he said
He revealed that Uganda Virus Research Institute has received
over fifty protocols from the research ethical committee secretariat. “But they have to undergo checks and I have
to tell you that many have failed the checks”
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Ideally, the government relies on scientific analysis and
research in order to create sound public policy. Renown researchers like
Professor Emeritus, Nelson Sewankambo agree that unbiased research not only
pushes the government to make decisions that are guided by facts — it also
increases public trust in the policy-making process.
to Professor Sewankambo, the government, research bodies and individuals
involved in research must ensure the integrity of research at all times.
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He says all those involved in scientific research should do whatever is need to preserve public confidence in the research conducted by Ugandans and institutions like Universities.