History of Pharmacology in Uganda

Excerpts from Prof. W.W. Anokbongo's speech at the UPharS launch:


In general, pharmacology is considered a young science discipline, which initially was imbedded within the discipline of internal medicine, from which it evolved to its current status as a fully-fledged, independent discipline. Its applied aspect is still firmly clinical. Thus, in clinical medicine, basic knowledge of pharmacology is ubiquitous and essential.

In the context of Uganda, pharmacology was initially a unit of Internal Medicine. As time went on, a fully-fledged Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics was established, recognizing its note as a basic preclinical discipline with applied branch in clinical fields. When I joined the department as a Uganda Government fellow in 1969, it was headed by Professor John Lock, assisted by Dr. Stuart Melntosh and Dr. Sultan Adrin (as teaching staff) and a very “powerful” chief technician in the person of Mr. Baldwin Cuspard. Major research areas by then were the pharmacology of venoms of poisonous snakes if Uganda, and the pharmacology of prostaglandins which soon became an international attraction, (it started in the Department of pharmacology and therapeutics, Makerere Medical School). The prostaglandin researchwas led by Dr. Karim then a Reader (associate, Professor level) in the Department of pharmacology and Therapeutics. Prostaglandin research soon attracted a huge USAID grant which was used to construct the current double storey building housing the Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics, and to put in place the then ultramodern facilities for prostaglandin research. However, when Dr. Karim had to leave Uganda (for security reasons), the prostaglandin research shifted to Singapore, where Dr. Karim took refuge. At about the same time, Dr. McIntosh also left for the University of Otego in Australia. Apart from Dr. Stephen Hart who joined the Department later on, the Department was left without any expatriate staff, Mr. Cuspard having long died in a plane crash. At that material time, I had just come back from the University of Bradfield, United Kingdom, with a MSc in Experimental Pharmacology and had started on my PhD programme in Makerere University. I was being supervised by Dr.Karim (who had by then became Professor and Head of the Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics), having taken over from Professor John Lock, who left for the University of Rwanda. After Professor Karim had left, Dr. Hart was requested by Makerere University to take over my supervision. Meanwhile, two colleagues, Dr. Y. Mawerere and Dr. D. Kyegombe, who were also sent for MSc. courses at the University of London came back. Thus, there were three of us (Ugandans) at the lecturer level under Dr. Stephen Hart as the Head of Department (and my supervisor for the PhD programme).

As I was attracted by Ugandan medicinal plants pharmacology, this became my major area of research interest. I soon set up an ultramodern research laboratory for the purpose. Since then, the Department of Pharmacology has become a multi-interest research Institution in the School of Biomedical Sciences, College of Health Sciences. Unfortunately, research activities on prostaglandins and snake venoms did not survive the exodus of Ugandan scientists of the nineteen seventies. It was a sad period in developments of pharmacology in Uganda.

When Dr. Stephen Hart also left, I had already completed my PhD in 1974 and took over the headship of the Department from Dr. Kyegombe who was then acting when Dr. Hart left. In the years that followed, many young medical graduates took interest in pharmacology. Soon the Department, under my headship, with the deliberate assistance from Dean, Professor Raphael Owori, recruited a number of graduates for MSc course, sponsored by various international organizations, particularly the World Health Organization. These included Drs. Mukwaya, Owera Atepo, Kwizera (who became a professor in South Africa where he sadly passed on), Muyingo, Ssengendo Ntege, Philip Byaruhanga (the current Board Chairman of National Medical Stores), Augustine Tibaleka, and Celestino Okello. Those who joined for PhD programmes then included Dr. Olila and Dr. Odoi Adome (currently Professor of Pharmacy). Many came later and thus, the Department became a hub of postgraduate training in the Faculty of Medicine (now College of Health Sciences of Makerere University). The department boasts of three Professors at the same time, namely Paul Waako (the Head of the Department), Celestino Obua (Deputy Principal, College of Health Sciences) and Jasper Ogwal-Okeng (currently leading the establishment of Gulu University affiliated University College in Lira). As outlined above, the evolution of pharmacology in Uganda has been steadily progressing and purposeful. The worst period in the history of pharmacology in Uganda was between 1977 and 1980, when the remaining teaching staff left at mass, apparently on the same day, for safe haven. Thus, the Department was left without a pharmacologist and students, I later learned, were being taught pharmacology by an anatomist! It is hoped that such a situation will never occur again (God Willing). Apart from that sad episode, the Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics, right from its inception, has, over the years, striven to establish itself in the College of Health Sciences, Makerere University, playing its national and international role in research, teaching, and service deliverance, with promotion and development of pharmacology as its core duty. I therefore urge all Pharmacologists to remain committed in the hope of giving the best to Ugandans and the international community as we move forward in the scientific realm.

After The demise of Mr. Cuspard, the leadership of the technical and support staff in the department was taken over by Mr. Ssali, the first Ugandan Chief Technician in pharmacology. The development and evolution of pharmacology in the country took a step forward when a department of pharmacology was opened in Mbarara University of Science and Technology, and later on at Gulu University respectively. As time went on, Kampala International University also opened a Faculty of Medicine with a separate department of pharmacology at its western campus in Ishaka, Bushenyi. The opening of all the three departments was heavily facilitated by the participation of members of the teaching staff from the Department of Pharmacology and Therapeutics, (the mother department of pharmacology in Uganda), at Makerere University Medical School (now College of Health Sciences).

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