Today 1st July 2020 marks 10 years since Prof. Pontiano Kaleebu assumed the office of Director of the then MRC/UVRI Uganda Research Unit on AIDS, taking over from Prof Heiner Grosskurth and as the fourth Director of the Unit. He shares here what the 10-year journey has been like.
A few years into my leadership we embarked on drafting the 2012-2017 five-year funding cycle, going through a very rigorous review, leading to a new research theme of “Addressing the changing HIV epidemic in Uganda and elsewhere” At that time, we had noted a shift in the HIV epidemic in terms of the most affected populations, improved survival with introduction of antiretrovirals, HIV was becoming a chronic disease, but we still needed interventions since the declines in HIV incidence were not being sustained.
In 2014, we participated in the MRC ‘s Chief Executive Officer’s High Level Advisory Group on Uganda which gathered views that guided our future research activities for the years 2017-2022, and a new theme of work “Addressing the shifting burden of disease”. This meant our research going beyond HIV into other emerging and re-emerging infections and expanding our research into non-communicable diseases. The name of the Unit changed to the MRC/UVRI Uganda Research Unit.
In 2016, I was also appointed as Director, the Uganda Virus Research Institute and I have since used this opportunity to strengthen the Unit’s partnership with the UVRI for the mutual benefit.
In February 2018, we had another major transformation when our Unit joined the LSHTM to become the MRC/UVRI & LSHTM Uganda Research Unit, providing new opportunities for growth.
I have been privileged to work with a number of committed and hardworking staff and colleagues with whom we have moved this Unit to new heights, together with many young scientists we have trained and who are the future research leaders.
I could not be where I’m today without the key institutions, organizations and individuals in Uganda and beyond with whom we have worked and shared successes and challenges.
I have faced challenges as well, of note is the financial overspend during the financial year 2018/19 that has led to the ongoing restructuring. This was of enormous stress but it showed me that when you stick to key principles and remain consistent, you can overcome obstacles.
Then early this year, the global outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic which put UVRI, the Unit and me personally at the spot light. The lesson here again, is remaining focused, committed, inclusive and aiming for excellence.
I have been very privileged and honoured to serve as Director of the Unit and to contribute both as an administrator and a scientist. I thank all those who have been by my side providing the support and advice, those I turn to during challenging times.
I wish the Unit a bright and successful future.
A big thank you