By Alfred Wasike
PRESIDENT Yoweri Museveni has said some people within the Government tried to sabotage the construction of Africa’s first plant to manufacture the full triple therapy combination of anti-retroviral medicines. “I supported the construction of this plant immediately because we have a big number of our people with malaria and AIDS,” the President said yesterday at the inauguration of the $30m hi-tech pharmaceutical factory in Luzira that will also manufacture anti-malarial drugs. “It is very embarrassing and annoying that there are some saboteurs who were opposed to this project. They prefer to import. We cannot keep importing drugs.” Without naming them, the President said there were people in the system who did not see the “wisdom” of such a factory in Uganda. “They dragged their feet to sabotage it,” Museveni said. The plant, which will in a first phase produce two million tablets per day, is a partnership project between the Government, Quality Chemical Industries, a local company, and Cipla, one of the world’s leading generic manufacturers.
The President was responding to complaints by Emmanuel Katongole of Quality Chemical Industries that the Government had not met its side of the agreement. Katongole said the Government would provide a guarantee to buy the drugs when production started. “The Government of Uganda owes us this favour because we fulfilled our side of the agreement. We delivered the plant in the agreed one year. We request that the Government buys the drugs as agreed,” he said as hundreds of workers cheered. In the absence of a Government guarantee, the company initially experienced difficulties raising the necessary funds, he added. “We had to desperately look for $25.8 million. We have a $4.8million funding gap.” He also lamented that the construction of the plant was hampered by frequent electricity failures, the increase of cement and fuel taxes, the rise in the price of steel, labour, construction materials, and bank rates from 8% to 9.5%. “You see in the government side we also have opposition that sabotages programmes. But they have no choice but to do what is expected of them because ours is an elected government,” Museveni said. He denounced leaders whom he described as “blind, ignorant and defiant” and praised Vice-President Prof. Gilbert Bukenya for following the plant project to the end.
He assured the company that the Government would fulfill its obligations. “We are going to buy the drugs you will manufacture. But I must stress that the drugs should be of comparable quality, price and time-bound. There is no way I can refuse to drink my own mubisi (banana juice).” On allegations that he had given away Uganda Prisons land, Museveni triggered laughter when he said: “These 15 acres that I gave for this ultra-modern plant will earn an estimated $36m per year. Could we earn that amount of money from the potatoes, cassava and maize that were here?” He urged the company to build an active pharmaceutical ingredient factory to consume locally grown anti-malarial products like Artemisia in Kabale, stressing that this move would create more employment, especially in the countryside.
Quality Chemical Industries director Fred Mutebi Kitaka said the production of ARVs in Uganda would help lower the cost of sh28,000 per dose per month for a patient. “Of the 300,000 people in Uganda who need anti-retroviral treatment, about 100,000 have access to the lifeprolonging drugs. With time this plant will help lower the cost for ordinary patients. At some point the cost of the drug was an exorbitant $1,500 per dose per month.” The Cipla managing director, Amar Lulla, pointed out that the new plant had sophisticated technology and should be looked after carefully. “I know that infant mortality is very high in Africa, but I request the Government of Uganda to nurture this baby so that you can get the real fruits for your society,” he cautioned. Museveni, accompanied by his wife Janet, cut a tape and planted a cinnamon tree to inaugurate the plant before watching the first tablets roll off the belt.