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Save the ChildrenSave the Children has been operating in Uganda since 1959 and is a leading children’s charity. It focuses on vulnerable children and families, addressing health, food security, livelihoods and education. The nonprofit reached more than 552,000 children in Uganda in 2023 with public donations. Here are some recent examples of the charity’s amazing work.

Health Care

Through the Save the Children and local leaders under the Strengthening Partnerships, Results and Innovations in Nutrition Globally (SPRING) program, efforts are directed toward improving nutrition for mothers, infants and young children. Working with government ministries and district partners, the charity has successfully identified the most vulnerable children and families in 35 communities. This initiative involves imparting knowledge and skills necessary for these communities to access essential services effectively. As a result, 227,000 children have benefited from these efforts, contributing significantly to their health and nutrition.

Education

Education is fundamental to Save the Children’s mission in Uganda, with the organization making substantial strides in enhancing access to quality learning. The construction of schools, teacher training initiatives and gender participation strategies significantly improved school enrolment rates, leading to a 17% gain in literacy and a 24% gain in numeracy.

In addition to its impactful work in health and nutrition, Save the Children’s education programs have positively impacted more than 167,000 girls and boys in Uganda. The investment in schools goes beyond imparting knowledge, as the organization is also actively involved in providing essential health services. This includes immunizations, as well as vision and hearing screenings in schools, ensuring that children have access to quality health care.

Child Protection

Child Protection is also at the core of Save the Children’s Initiatives, focusing on raising community awareness about children’s rights and actively implementing them. In Northern Uganda, the foundation’s Responsible, Engaged and Loving (REAL) Fathers project is making substantial strides in transforming parental practices and decreasing violence within homes. The project has achieved noteworthy reductions, including a 29% decrease in intimate partner violence and an 18% reduction in the use of physical punishment.

Additionally, it has a pioneering Gender Roles Equality and Transformations (GREAT) project in Northern Uganda, working towards reducing sexual and gender-based violence in the region. Furthermore, the Save the Children’s Life Skills for Success approach, which helps adolescent girls build vocational skills, has led to a 35% increase in the likelihood of their engagement in income-generating activities.

Refugee Response

Uganda hosts more than 1.5 million refugees (the world’s fifth highest), with 61% being children. An unfortunate reality is that many refugees in the country face poverty and food insecurity. Save the Children is actively addressing these issues through various initiatives. It provides cash for work projects and employment opportunities while also supporting local communities by engaging in tree planting and road repair activities.

Additionally, the Response Innovation Lab by Save the Children serves as a collaborative platform, facilitating the development of innovative solutions to address the unique and challenging problems faced by refugees in the region.

Final Remark

Since 1959, Save the Children has been instrumental in helping the lives of vulnerable children and their families in Uganda. Through various programs, the nonprofit has reached more than 552,000 children in the country in the past year. This fantastic progress demonstrates that change is not only possible but is actively happening in the lives of children across Uganda.

– Jack Timmins
Photo: Flickr

For many people across the globe, alcohol is used to unwind after a stressful week or to enjoy social events. Others use alcohol to cope with hardship and can develop addictions that impact their day-to-day lives. According to a 2023 report from the World Health Organization (WHO), Uganda has the highest rate of alcohol consumption per capita in Africa at 12.2 liters of alcohol per year. Alcohol abuse in Uganda is closely correlated to poverty, as people spend much of their income on alcohol and are also subject to higher health care costs and fewer employment opportunities. Those affected can also enter a debt spiral to maintain their habit, and their children can miss out on education.

The severe nature of alcohol abuse in Uganda highlights the need for measures that aim to reduce harm and prevent more people from becoming addicted to alcohol. Many organizations recognize this and are actively helping those in need.

Uganda Youth Development Link

Uganda Youth Development Link (UYDEL) was founded in 1993 to lift Ugandan youth out of poverty and build life skills. It focuses on addressing several issues faced by vulnerable young people, such as child trafficking, HIV prevention and alcohol and substance abuse.

UYDEL is one of the leading organizations addressing alcohol abuse in Uganda, with efforts focusing on lobbying for stricter alcohol regulations. Key areas UYDEL lobbies for include banning plastic sachets of alcohol, restricting advertisements for alcohol, limiting alcohol sale hours and preventing the sale of alcohol to minors. Additionally, UYDEL also organizes community outreaches, film screenings and seminars to prevent alcohol abuse.

Hands For Hope

Hands for Hope began in 2008 after its founder, Joe Cummiskey, relocated to Uganda from the U.K. to help vulnerable children. The organization aims to alleviate extreme poverty for children living in Uganda’s most deprived areas through health and social care and education.

Parental alcohol abuse has caused extreme hardship for some of the 350 children Hands for Hope works with. 16-year-old Jane and her siblings were raised by a single mother who abused alcohol to cope with the stress of living in a slum. During their childhood, their mother would regularly physically use them when drunk. Cases similar to this highlight how severe alcohol abuse in Uganda is and how it impacts entire families.

Hands for Hope tried to support Jane’s mother through her alcohol abuse by enrolling her in Alcoholics Anonymous. While this did work for a time, ultimately, it was unsuccessful. However, Hands for Hope arranged places for the children at a boarding school, allowing them to access education in a safe and stable environment. Without this intervention, the children would still be suffering from their mother’s alcohol abuse and would have a much lower quality of life.

Hope and Beyond

Hope and Beyond is “Uganda’s leading treatment center for alcohol and substance abuse disorders.” Those suffering from alcohol abuse in Uganda are taken through detoxification, allowing the body time to remove alcohol and other toxins to start the recovery process. Due to the relationship between alcohol abuse and other illnesses such as schizophrenia or depression, Hope and Beyond also offer comprehensive care to allow for a complete recovery. Vocational skills training and guidance are also provided, allowing those affected to feel supported and build a career to sustain themselves after recovery.

Uganda Alcohol Policy Alliance

Uganda Alcohol Policy Alliance (UAPA) is a collection of organizations coming together to fight for a more effective alcohol policy in Uganda. By advocating for stronger legislation based on evidence, UAPA aims to reduce the negative impact of alcohol abuse in Uganda. Uganda’s alcohol legislation also receives support through technical expertise and resources provided by UAPA and encouragement to enact efficient regulations to protect citizens’ health. While UAPA’s efforts may not have a direct impact on people’s lives in the way some other organizations would, alcohol can be linked to many diseases, such as cancer and liver disease. By promoting a stronger alcohol policy, many Ugandans will also see an improvement in their health.

The World Health Organization

Efforts to address alcohol abuse in Uganda don’t stop on a local scale. In 2018, the WHO launched its SAFER initiative to help Uganda regulate alcohol consumption. With Uganda’s per capita alcohol consumption of 12.2 liters nearly double the global average of 6.18 liters, the strain placed on health and economic factors is evident.

The SAFER initiative supports Uganda’s Ministry of Health to enforce strict alcohol legislation, tackle drunk driving and implement treatment programs across the country. Uganda’s own attempts to curb alcohol abuse such as the 2022 Alcohol Control Bill and restrictions on selling alcohol to under-18s are strengthened by the WHO through a widespread campaign and monitoring system. The WHO has also been present at policy briefings regarding alcohol abuse in Uganda, in addition to creating a risk factor survey in 2013 and in 2023, as well as improving Ugandans’ access to treatment for alcohol-related health issues.

A Look Ahead

Pressure caused by extreme poverty has been a significant factor contributing to alcohol abuse in Uganda over the years. Many turn to alcohol as an escape from the suffering of their daily lives, but this only leads to poor economic outcomes and health issues and can cause suffering for whole families. With the support offered by organizations like these, Ugandans can benefit from direct intervention and broader campaigns to heighten awareness of the dangers of alcohol and prevent even more people from taking the path of alcohol abuse.

Jamie Paterson

Photo: Flickr

Flooding in Uganda Due to global warming over the past few years, the world has seen many countries be thrown into crisis due to natural disasters. Uganda has been one of those impacted countries.

What’s Happening?

24 people have died and over 5,600 people have been displaced due to the eruption of 2 riverbanks in Eastern Uganda causing flash flooding after heavy rain. The floods have also led to 400,000 people without clean water and destroying thousands of acres of farmable land. Flooding in Uganda has left many Ugandans without the capacity to sustain their basic needs. Rain is predicted for the coming month and the local government has a goal of evacuating 100,00 people out of the Eastern Ugandan area, only 2,500 have been evacuated thus far.

Impact On Poverty

Uganda has one of the youngest populations in the world. Half of the population is 15 years old or younger, so this massively impacts the work force. 76% of the country lives in rural areas and 73% of the work force works in agriculture. The floods have greatly impacted this massive industry of agriculture which affects the way the population is able to earn sustainable wages. 41% of the country already lives below the poverty line of less than $1.90/day. Fertile land and farming are seen as a way for people to make a living for themselves.

With the floods having no end in sight and likely only to get worse due to global warming, thousands of acres have been lost in this season alone and it is hard to say when the industry could make a full recovery.  The eastern and northern regions of Uganda have higher poverty populations than the rest of the country. This means flooding in Uganda is more likely to affect people who are in poverty.

Humanitarian Impact

On June 13, politicians in the area declared a need for humanitarian assistance in food security. The USAID and BHA are planning to deliver emergency funds to the world food program in order to help with the food crisis caused by the flooding in Uganda. The U.S. also announced a donation of $20 million in development assistance to the country. The funds are meant to ease the food insecurity by helping the agriculture industry and providing the country with improved techniques to increase productivity and to prevent losses.

 A Look Ahead

The situation for many in Uganda is currently not adequate, however, the people of the world see their struggle and have committed to helping. The U.S. and other organizations have seen this problem all over the world in terms of food insecurity caused by natural disasters. While the problem may not be gone today or tomorrow, there are countless people trying to make sure that the Ugandans in the coming years will not have the same worries.

Alex Peterson
Photo: WikiCommons

Princess MariePrincess Marie of Denmark completes her tenth year working with DanChurchAid, an organization working to combat global poverty. She has also contributed to several other philanthropic organizations over the years. Her Royal Highness actively advocates for the critical cause of diminishing global poverty through her work and commitment.

DanChurchAid

DanChurchAid is an organization that works with economically developing nations to combat hunger, poverty, and oppression. It has been operating for over a hundred years, and with the help of donors, volunteers, and partners, it has aided people in more than 120 countries. The group uses popular and political forces to urge political decision-makers to improve living conditions for the underprivileged. Along with their long-term aid in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs), the organization offers relief to disaster-stricken areas. They make sure that communities reemerge more robustly, and are more adequately prepared if disaster strikes again. The group’s mission emphasizes the importance of human rights as well as working with those in need on relevant, sustainable, and practical projects.

Humanitarian Trips

Through her years as a patron, Princess Marie’s philanthropy has shown through her multiple humanitarian trips with DanChurchAid. During a recent trip to Uganda, she visited the Raising Gabdho Foundation in Kampala. There, she learned more about the foundation’s work, and the techniques they developed to cook in a more sustainable way. She also saw a DanChurchAid project called Fresh Fruit Nexus. The Danish International Development Agency first developed this project in Northern Uganda in 2018. Here, Princess Marie visited Ugandan farmers in the Omugo Refugee Settlement. Together with their refugee families, the farmers formed a cooperative in which they collected crops together and had the opportunity to borrow money from each other.

Princess Marie’s philanthropy extends to other countries as well. She has also traveled to Myanmar in the past. In Myanmar, DanChurchAid has provided underdeveloped communities with practical tools to advance their economic status and quality of life. People have worked to financially organize themselves through savings and loan systems. The underprivileged community could use the money to purchase essential tools, such as sewing machines, for economic sustainability. Princess Marie made this humanitarian trip alongside Danish donors who are also passionate about combating global poverty.

Promoting Sustainability and Accessibility

Another project that Princess Marie was active in is a supermarket called Wefood, which is located in the capital of Copenhagen, Denmark. Her Royal Highness worked with DanChurchAid in unveiling the project. Wefood aims to promote sustainability and accessibility by collecting surplus produce daily and selling it. By using this method, they can cut costs by 30 to 50%. The supermarket has aimed to cut back on food waste and provide food to those affected by poverty. This is the first of its kind in the nation.

In addition to Wefood, Princess Marie has also worked with FoedevareBanken, a Danish food bank. This organization also aims to fight food waste and poverty. Similar to Wefood, they work to provide disadvantaged people with sustainable food, and this initiative ensures that all people can have access to nutritious and balanced meals.

Through her advocacy and patronage with DanChurchAid, Princess Marie has effectively influenced the fight against global poverty. After her ten years with the organization, people worldwide eagerly await to see where Princess Marie’s philanthropy will inspire change next.

– Carly Johnson
Photo: Flickr

Child Mortality in UgandaFatal diseases are taking the lives of children in Uganda, claiming the futures of the young generation. Approximately 8.2 million children younger than 5 die annually due to various illnesses and complications during childbirth. Roughly 40% of these deaths occur within the first 30 days of life, falling into the category of neonatal deaths. Rates of child mortality in Uganda have been on a decline since 1970 when there were 191 infant deaths among 1,000 births. Today, there are 45.8 deaths in 1,000 births. Although there is a marked decrease in numbers, under-five deaths still pose a problem for Uganda. Fortunately, many organizations recognize the issue and are implementing programs to effectively combat it.

Causes of Child Mortality in Uganda

Roughly 16% of child mortality cases in Uganda are caused by pneumonia. Symptoms of the illness include chest pain, persistent coughing, fever and low body temperature. About 99% of pneumonia cases occur in less-developed countries such as Uganda, making clear the correlation between poverty and pneumonia. In poverty-stricken areas, malnutrition, poor air quality and limited access to healthcare cause the development and dispersion of pneumonia among a population. Children in Uganda are vulnerable and quickly become victims of the illness.

Malaria also leads to child mortality in Uganda. Malaria is a fatal disease caused by parasites that spread from person to person. Symptoms include fever, headache and chills. Young children are especially susceptible to the disease, and in 2019, 67% of malaria cases affected children younger than 5. The illness can kill children within 30 seconds. Malaria is most common in Africa and costs the continent $12 billion each year. Access to treatment is difficult to obtain in the poverty-stricken areas of Uganda where malaria dissipates. The most impoverished areas of Africa are the ones most affected by malaria, with children younger than 5 at most risk.

Finally, diarrhea causes 10% of infant deaths in Uganda. Symptoms of the infection include cramps, nausea, vomiting and fever. Studies have shown that in Pajule Subcounty and other rural areas of Uganda, the rates of diarrhea are higher. A lack of clean water and inadequate health education contribute to these health consequences.

Working Toward a Solution

Recognizing the issues that surround child mortality in Uganda, many organizations have taken the initiative to reduce the severity of the situation. One such organization is the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), which is dedicated to the well-being and longevity of children worldwide. Among its many programs to address under-five deaths in Uganda, UNICEF has established a water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) program seeking to increase access to clean drinking water and teach healthy sanitation habits. Only 8% of mothers with children younger than 5 have access to soap and resources necessary for handwashing. Such habits lead to illnesses such as diarrhea. In tandem with the Government of Uganda, UNICEF is working to provide sanitation resources and increase awareness of healthy habits.

With similar intentions and efforts, Living Goods is a nonprofit organization collaborating with Bangladesh-based BRAC to help rural Ugandan mothers prevent infant mortality. Through its Community Health Promoters (CHP) program, the organization implements grassroots efforts to improve community health. CHPs are workers who go door-to-door to communicate healthy practices, relay important information, diagnose child illnesses and provide care to mothers and their newborns. This work has led to a 27% decrease in under-five child mortality in targeted regions. Ugandan villagers now take more precautions in order to maintain their own health and that of their young children.

Looking Ahead

Child mortality in Uganda is a problem that has not yet been eliminated. Many Ugandan families face unhealthy living conditions that are unfavorable to a child’s health. However, organizations such as UNICEF, Living Goods and BRAC are working to educate rural villages on the importance of sanitation and are giving families the resources to establish healthier lifestyles. Thanks to such efforts, under-five death rates are declining. If the work of these organizations continues, in the near future, more positive progress lies ahead.

– Mariam Kazmi
Photo: Unsplash

Solar Energy in UgandaAs of 2016, it was estimated by the World Bank that only 26% of Uganda’s population has access to electricity. In urban areas, the percentage is higher, at about 60%. However, in rural areas, the amount of people with electrical access is limited to only 18%. The use of solar energy in Uganda hopes to bring increased access to electricity, specifically in rural areas, as well as make electricity more affordable for the population.

What is Solar Energy?

Solar energy is energy from the sun that can be used electrically or thermally. It is a renewable energy source that provides a sustainable and clean alternative. Through photovoltaics (solar thermal collectors) solar power is collected and then converted into an energy source that can be used as a heating system or for electricity.

Solar Energy Fighting Poverty

Solar energy in Uganda can bring poverty reduction. It is an affordable and reliable source of energy that rural areas can depend on. It can also produce jobs within the community. Since solar energy makes household chores easier, women and girls have more time available to search for jobs or pursue education and development opportunities. Overall, renewable energy is a valuable component to provide electricity access, financial empowerment and sustainable economic and social development.

European Investment Bank (EIB)

With solar energy, more of the country will have access to electricity. The European Investment Bank (EIB) is using its finances to help people without electricity in Uganda. As it is the rural communities that are more affected by a lack of electricity, programs are more focused on maintaining reliable resources for those areas.

Through EIB’s efforts, more than one million people in Uganda will have access to electricity for the first time, making for easier cooking and the ease of many other household activities. Families will also be able to save money since the household will not be using as much kerosene, candles or charcoal. Indoor pollution will decrease from less kerosene usage and fire hazards will be reduced.

Reliable electricity has many benefits, with access to health opportunities being one of them. With access to phones, radios and televisions, farmers will be open to markets that can increase their income. EIB has given a loan of $12.5 million to build 240,000 solar home systems throughout Uganda, increasing economic and social opportunities.

Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL)

Sustainable Energy for All (SEforALL) created an agenda that was adopted by Uganda’s government to help provide an increase in accessibility. The goal is to provide more than 99% of the population with access to electricity by 2030 and improve the energy efficiency of power users by at least 20% by 2030. SEforALL plans on accomplishing this ambitious goal by building energy savers throughout the country in households, industries, commercial enterprises and more.

It is clear that Uganda is in need of more access to electricity throughout the nation. Solar energy is one of the sources that hopes to increase those numbers. There is still a lot to be done to raise access to electricity from 26% to 100%, but with efforts from Sustainable Energy for All and the European Investment Bank, the situation looks exceptionally hopeful.

– Sarah Kirchner
Photo: Flickr

Iceland’s Foreign AidIceland, located in the North Atlantic Ocean, has a population of fewer than 400,000 people. The small Nordic island is home to some of the most sought after natural landmarks and tourist attractions such as the northern lights. Although small, the country has provided big backing to countries triple its size through its foreign aid programs. In 2008, Iceland experienced what economists considered to be the most severe economic downturn in its history. After years of hard work, Iceland was able to rebuild its economy and rebounded successfully. Aside from the financial crisis in 2008, the country has been able to maintain relatively low poverty rates with rates remaining at 0.10% from 2013 to 2015. Iceland has paid its good fortune forward by offering assistance to countries experiencing economic fragility. The Icelandic government is committed to fighting poverty by providing support to nations in need. The main objective of Iceland’s foreign aid pursuits is to reduce poverty and hunger while advocating for human rights, gender equality and sustainable development. Three countries, in particular, have been supported by Iceland’s foreign aid.

Syria

Syria has a long history of political turbulence with numerous uprisings dating back to the 20th century. One event, in particular, was especially tumultuous. In 2015, Syria had experienced a major political uproar in one of the largest and oldest cities in the country, Aleppo. “The Battle of Aleppo” began in 2011 in the city of Deraa. Citizens who opposed the leadership of President Bashar al-Assad decided to rebel. This led to a civil war between the Syrian government and protesters who the Syrian government referred to as rebels. The civil war that lasted six years had a detrimental impact on the citizens. There were massive food and gas shortages. Multiple buildings were victim to mass bombings, including schools and hospitals. Civilians were caught in the crossfire and suffered greatly as a result. Iceland stepped in to offer assistance and allocated $600,000 to support civilians impacted by the war in 2015. The country continued in its efforts by supporting Syria with $4 million worth of humanitarian aid in 2016.

Malawi

Malawi holds one of the highest rates of poverty in the world, at 51.5.% in 2016. Malnutrition and infant mortality impact Malawi’s 18.6 million population. The country has experienced notable economic growth in the past three years, with a 4.4% increase in economy in 2019. Unfortunately, these economic gains have been stalled as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. In early November 2020, the Icelandic government donated $195,000 to the World Food Programme to assist with the COVID-19 response in Malawi.

Uganda

Uganda and Iceland established their relationship in the year 2000. The Icelandic government is committed to enhancing the livelihood of Ugandan fishing communities located in the Kalanga and Buikwe districts. Uganda is one of the largest recipients of Icelandic foreign aid with an annual distribution of $6 million. Iceland’s contributions have seen monumental success with safe water coverage now standing at 77%, up from 58% in 2015. The primary school completion rate in Buikwe is up from 40% in 2011 to a staggering 75.5%.

Iceland: A Foreign Aid Leader

While Iceland may be small in comparison to its peers, Iceland has been tremendously influential in its foreign relations. The three countries above are just a few of the nations that Iceland has assisted. Humanitarian efforts continue to provide support to countries in need through Iceland’s foreign aid.

– Imani Smikle
Photo: Flickr

Women's Rights in UgandaWomen’s rights in Uganda are notoriously spotty. Ugandan women experience high rates of physical and sexual abuse, at 56% and 22% respectively. Additionally, child marriage is common and 40% of Ugandan girls marry before they turn 18. As a result, many girls never complete their education or gain the necessary job skills to help them provide for themselves and their families. The lack of opportunities for women to thrive economically only perpetuates poverty in the region.

The Gender Gap and Poverty

Uganda currently ranks 65th out of 153 countries on the Global Gender Gap Index for equal “economic participation and opportunity” among men and women. With 19.7% of Ugandans still living below the poverty line in 2013 and two in three households that escape poverty and then fall below the poverty line all over again, striving for women’s rights in Uganda is one essential step needed to combat the region’s prevalent poverty. Over the last few years, the Ugandan Government and nonprofit groups have made great strides to advance women’s rights in Uganda.

Legislation for Women’s Rights in Uganda

Over the last 15 years, Uganda has passed a volley of legislation designed to protect women’s rights. These laws make it more likely for women to have the physical health and wellbeing to hold jobs and begin to address the social barriers to women’s economic participation.

  • Laws prohibiting violence against women: The 2009 Persons Act (anti-trafficking), 2010 Anti-Female Genital Mutilation Act, 2010 Domestic Violence Act and additional 2011 domestic violence regulations.
  • The Equal Opportunities Commission Act of 2007: This law gives the Ugandan state power to punish discrimination against sex, while also permitting the state to implement “affirmative action in favor of groups marginalized on the basis of gender… for the purpose of redressing imbalances which exist.”

Governmental Plans for Women’s Rights

Addressing women’s rights in Uganda is a key part of Uganda’s Second National Development Plan 2015/16 – 2019/20. The Plan explains attaining women’s rights as a prerequisite to desired economic growth and proposes several key initiatives to increase women’s access to business ownership and resources. The initiatives include using technology to promote women’s issues, advancing economic reforms to allow women equal access to inheritance, property and public financial resources as well as addressing widespread gender discrimination. An additional public policy plan, The National Strategy to End Child Marriage, seeks to enhance women’s autonomy and economic opportunity by curtailing child marriage, which stunts teenagers’ abilities to seek education and exposes them to marital violence. Due to child marriage, currently up to 35% of girls drop out of school before age 18.

Organizations for Women’s Rights in Uganda

Nonprofit advocacy groups are playing a part to advance and raise awareness for women’s rights too. Girl Up Initiative Uganda provides programs tailored to educate adolescent girls, teaching job skills and economic empowerment. Additionally, Action for Rural Women’s Empowerment (ARUWE Uganda) focuses on teaching agricultural job skills to women in rural areas.

The National Union of Women with Disabilities in Uganda (NUWODU) seeks to expand ongoing women’s rights work to women with disabilities. In particular, NUWODU aims to end discrimination against disabled women workers in the job market and to increase their wages and access to services.

While there is still plenty of work to do, the progress being made by nonprofits and governmental action taken on behalf of Ugandan women enables them to attain long-term economic equality and prosperity that will help the region as a whole to fight poverty.

– Elizabeth Broderick
Photo: Flickr

Biotechnology in UgandaBiotechnology’s recent rise has led many countries with abundant resources to further their healthcare services and agriculture. Embracing this innovation movement has led Uganda to improve its economic growth and the country’s development significantly. By doing so, Uganda progresses to have an edge in growing a bio-resource economy due to the country’s rich resources. The constant advancement of biotechnology in Uganda has led to improved farming, toxic waste management and medical diagnostics and treatments. Continued improvement depends on the governmental support to the science and technology field.

About Uganda’s Biotechnology

While this form of technology covers a wide range of live organism manipulation, biotechnology in Uganda solely deals with technology associated with transgenic organisms and recombinant DNA alteration. This form of modern scientific technology became prominent in 1993. This was when the Ugandan Department of Animal Science and Faculty of Agriculture at Makerere University proposed using the transgenically derived bovine somatotropin (BST) hormone for cattle growth and lactate production. Genetic engineering of agrobacteria produces the BST hormone and boosts the agriculture economy in return. However, due to the controversy over growth hormones at the time, the import of BST halted.

Two years later, biotechnology usage was necessary for Phase 1 trials of a potential HIV-1 vaccine (ALVAC vCP 205). It was the first HIV-1 preventative vaccine study in Uganda and Africa as a whole. This vaccine was a live recombinant canarypox vector expressing HIV-1 glycoproteins. Both the BST and HIV-1 vaccine proposals provided a basis for the foundation for the national biosafety guidelines. They led to the establishment of the National Biosafety Committee in 1996.

Research into biotechnology continues to pose an advantage for Uganda. Moving these transgenic products to the commercial market requires a full governmental understanding within the biotechnology innovation market.

Effects on Ugandan Healthcare and Agriculture

Over the years, Ugandan biotechnology has widely helped both the healthcare and agriculture industry. Laboratory projects regarding genetic resistance to pathogens, droughts and other disasters aid the crop growth throughout the nation. Ongoing research on animal vaccines such as East Coast Fever and Foot and Mouth Disease has facilitated the animal life expectancy. The study has also improved food production in Uganda.

Characterization of crop pathogens such as sweet potato feathery mottle virus through molecular markers has led to better disease prevention techniques. For example, east African Highland bananas are being genetically modified to resist banana bacterial wilt, weevils and overall improve the nutritional value of the plant. Established in 2007, these modified bananas have been able to confer resistance against the black Sigatoka disease.

Additionally, the crops’ genetic diversity multiplies more now than ever, prompting a path towards a more complicated and safe GMO industry. Bananas and pineapples are artificially bred using tissue culture techniques, providing more products annually. Agro-Genetic Technologies Ltd’s (AGT) coffee bean proliferation is also underway.

Regarding the health sector, pharmacokinetics and drug resistance techniques receive heavy study. Multi-drug and drug-resistant diseases widespread in Uganda, such as tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and malaria, are especially heavily studied. Clinical trials for DNA-based vaccines utilizing the recombinant adenovirus five vectors are also in progress.

Population Participation Increases

In the past few years, an average biotechnology worker in Uganda earned around 3,520,000 UGX per month. Biotechnology in Uganda has led to sufficient wages. However, this form of science has also increased the participation of different demographic groups, namely women. Women in the field have strongly encouraged the use of agricultural biotechnology.

Dr. Priya Namanya Bwesigye is the lead Ugandan banana researcher at the National Agricultural Research Laboratories (NARL) in Kawanda. She claims that African women are looking for new solutions. They are also looking into how they can use technology to give their people and themselves better and improved crop varieties to fight hunger and improve living quality. Bwesigye and her team use genetic engineering to make disease-resistant bananas and provide more nutrition. One of these modified bananas provides vitamin A as well. Her program provides farmers with these improved bananas and a foundation for the multiplication of said fruit with proper restraints.

For biotechnology in Uganda to take off, the population must be adequately educated about the effects of this form of science and its changes. Bwesigye, for one, explains agricultural biotechnology to farmers and why it is necessary. The Uganda Biosciences Information Center (UBIC) began training teachers in this modern form of science. This was done to popularize the technology in local communities. UBIC trained 27 teachers and 12 textbook authors after the education department mandated that the national curriculum in secondary schools integrated this new form of science. The National Crops Resources Research Institute (NaCRRI) held a one-week training course. Participants visit field trials of genetically modified crops and other research laboratories. These trials and laboratories involved different aspects of agriculture and health.

The Biosafety Bill of Uganda

With the use of biotechnology rising, ethical problems have started to arise. To ease integrating this new form of technology into the mainstream market, the Ugandan government established the Biosafety Bill of Uganda. This bill’s mission is to provide a proper framework that enforces safe development and biotechnology in Uganda. Its mission is also to regulate research and the release of these GMOs into the public. The population was torn between the ethical controversy surrounding biotechnology. However, the bill was able to go into effect in 2018 after much deliberation.

Overall, Ugandan biotechnology has dramatically impacted the country, especially in its agriculture and the healthcare industry. As time progresses, biotechnology in Uganda has improved and heavily aids as an asset to the country.

Aditi Prasad
Photo: Flickr

MamaOpe smart jacketIn 2014, Olivia Koburongo lost her grandmother to pneumonia after she was misdiagnosed with malaria by doctors in Uganda. In response to this tragic misdiagnosis, Koburongo and Brian Turyabagye decided to put their engineering skills to the test and solve the problem of pneumonia misdiagnosis and slow diagnoses, a problem which is common in many African countries. With the help of Dr. Cosmas Mwikirize, a professor at Makerere University, they designed the MamaOpe smart jacket, a “biomedical application for early diagnosis and continuous monitoring of pneumonia patients,” according to the company’s website.

Effects of Slow Diagnoses and Misdiagnoses of Pneumonia

Studies show that patients are often wrongfully diagnosed with malaria. Over-diagnosis of malaria means that other life-threatening conditions, such as pneumonia, are not treated. Misdiagnoses end up contributing to the death rate associated with other ailments, including pneumonia. Children, in particular, are adversely affected as pneumonia accounts for 15% of deaths among children under the age of five. Every year, one million children under the age of five die from pneumonia. Pneumonia causes more deaths than malaria, diarrhea and HIV/AIDs combined. In 2015, more than 490,000 children died from pneumonia in sub-Saharan Africa.

Between 2001 and 2016, childhood pneumonia deaths had fallen by only 50% relative to an 85% decrease in childhood deaths due to measles and a 60% decrease in childhood deaths due to malaria, tetanus and AIDS. According to UNICEF, slow or limited progress in the diagnosis and treatment of pneumonia is associated with poor funding for preventative care and treatment management. In 2011, for every dollar spent on global health, just two cents went toward pneumonia.

MamaOpe Provides a Solution

The MamaOpe smart jacket, which was shortlisted for the prestigious Africa Prize for Engineering in 2017, is designed specifically for children from the ages of zero to five who are particularly vulnerable to pneumonia. “Mama” is shorthand for “Mother,” and “Ope” means “Hope.” MamaOpe thus signifies “Hope for the Mother.” It is also a reference to the 27,000 children in Uganda who die of pneumonia annually.

In order to monitor patients’ chests and heartrates, listen to their lungs and check their breathing rates and temperatures, MamaOpe utilizes a stethoscope, which is embedded in a jacket that patients wear. The jacket covers the patients’ entire chests and sides. It is made from polymer, a material selected to reduce the risk of spreading infection when the jacket is shared among patients.

The jacket itself is connected to an android application on a mobile device via Bluetooth. The technology helps eliminate human error. According to the company, measurements made by the device assist doctors in diagnosing pneumonia three to four times faster than when doctors use a normal stethoscope. MamaOpe displays the results after three minutes of tracking a patient’s vitals.

Hope for the Future

The MamaOpe smart jacket is still in its prototype and testing phase but reports suggest that the company plans to bring the product to market in 2021. The current cost of the jacket is $60 and the price will likely decrease when full-scale manufacturing begins and the jacket tests successfully in Uganda.

As MamaOpe strives to prevent cases of pneumonia misdiagnosis and decrease the child death rate associated with pneumonia, the company is proving just how important innovation can be in combatting deadly illnesses. If governments ramp up support for pneumonia prevention, management and treatment, the lives of hundreds of thousands of children can be saved annually.

–  Zoe Engels
Photo: Flickr