University of the Free State: Ugandan scientists visit UFS traditional medicine expert for benchmarking

Prof Motlalepula Matsabisa, Director of Pharmacology at the University of the Free State (UFS), played host to academics from the Busitema University in Uganda for benchmarking on traditional medicine and to establish collaboration between the two institutions.

Prof Paul Waako, Vice-Chancellor of the Busitema University – who was part of the visiting party – and Prof Francis Petersen, UFS Rector and Vice-Chancellor, signed a collaboration agreement that enables the two institutions to work together and to get involved in the exchange of expertise as part of the collaboration.

Dr Samuel Baker Obakiro, Lecturer of Pharmacology and Therapeutics and Head of the Department of Pharmacology, and Dr Richard Oriko Owor, a natural products chemist, accompanied Prof Waako on the visit to the UFS from 18 to 21 July, during which they undertook tours of various departments and laboratories, including Pharmacology, Virology, Chemistry, Genetics, Physics, Microbiology, and others. They also visited FARMOVS.

Establishing collaboration

Uganda – through their Ministry of Science, Technology, and Innovation – has a national drive to ensure that science contributes to socio-economic development through their major national agenda, which promotes local production, reduces importation, and increases exportation of goods. Dr Monica Musenero Masanza, Minister of Science, Technology, and Innovation, wants to ensure that the capacity of Ugandan scientists to conduct applied research will promote national development and reduce poverty.

Prof Waako said they came to the UFS to establish collaboration, as universities have an obligation to ensure that science improves the socio-economic situation in Africa. They would like to work with the UFS to ensure that science strengthens science in order to serve the people.

“Currently, one of the biggest challenges is the local manufacturing of pharmaceuticals, and that is why we came to the Department of Pharmacology. We need to come together as African universities and use all the existing capacities to transform the lives of our people.”

“African traditional medicine has a lot to offer, and a lot of research has been done, but we have not been able to take it to the level of final commercialisable products. This is the reason of us coming here, we want to create that link to ensure that the science – which has already been identified and established – is able to move to product production,” says Prof Waako.

At the right place

They decided to visit the UFS after meeting Prof Matsabisa during his visit to their country’s universities as part of the WHO team.

According to Dr Obakiro, when walking down the corridors of the department, they can see that they are in the right place. “We are also looking at mentorship, as our university is still very young. I am happy and privileged to be here. We cannot succeed on our journey if we do not stand on your shoulders.”

Dr Obakiro said they are also looking at how to set up partnerships between academia and industry, as well as collaboration between the different academic departments, such as pharmacology, chemistry, microbiology, and virology, and how these collaborative initiatives can be effective and efficient to drive their agenda.

In welcoming the colleagues from West Africa, Prof Matsabisa said, “Let’s find a way to crawl together and eventually run together. If you want to move into drug discovery and development, no single scientist can do it alone, it is a multidisciplinary approach. It is a team effort with a shared vision. We have some experience that we can share with you, but we are not perfect, and I think we can learn together.”