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Scientist Stranded with Innovation Despite Presidential Nod

Mijumbi who was arrested in April and had his laboratory equipment confiscated by the National Drug Authority (NDA) on allegations that he was a quack, says ever since his release from detention, he has been visited by several high profile officials but the visits have not had any impact on his innovation save for intimidation and warnings to go slow on COVID-19 research.

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The directive by President Yoweri Museveni to several institutions to guide bio-technologist Robert Mijumbi refine his idea of a COVID-19 cure has only created him anxiety and unnecessary suspense, the young scientist told Uganda Radio Network in an interview.

Mijumbi who was arrested in April and had his laboratory equipment confiscated by the National Drug Authority (NDA) on allegations that he was a quack, says ever since his release from detention, he has been visited by several high profile officials but the visits have not had any impact on his innovation save for intimidation and warnings to go slow on COVID-19 research.

He says that several other officials have advised him to rather focus on HIV. His idea, built on research he started exploring in 2012 when he started studying the HIV virus, is to develop an enzyme soup that can digest SARS COV- 2 a virus that causes COVI9-19.

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The Uganda National Council for Science and Technology was tasked to review this idea. But speaking to URN, Helen Opolot, the Assistant Executive Secretary of the council said the innovator was summoned but he wasn’t forthcoming. 

“We wrote to him. He can’t just claim to have an innovation without defending it. The Ministry of Health asked us to help and we called him to evaluate his research product. He has never responded. We are still waiting to hear from him”, she told URN on Monday.

But Mijumbi says that based on what they were requiring him to submit, he couldn't guarantee the safety of his idea. He says that instead of knocking his idea down completely, the scientists ought to have subjected it to a test just like other treatments elsewhere are currently being tested.

Although the council blames the slow progress on the innovator, emails seen by URN show that Dr Joseph Okia, the Senior Presidential Advisor – Medical had advised the council to go slow.

“There are several issues that need to be addressed before it makes sense to meet. It would be better for him to interact with the National Council once we have developed an agreed research protocol, which is not currently in place. He is working directly with the State House Medical Department to develop these and we will be able to inform you once these are ready”, Okia wrote to Opolot.

Mijumbi says while he still awaits on the Statehouse, he is not in any communication with them currently, he appeals to NDA to return the equipment they had confiscated. He said he has called and written to them but has not had any response. 

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However, Fredrick Ssekyana, the NDA spokesperson said the authority had not received any letter from him. On his part, Mijumbi challenges the authorities to put his innovation to a test in a public space where he can be verified if he is quack or not.

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