NHLDS's Dr. Charles Kiyaga Honored with the ABETO Peace Award 2023
20th July, 2023 Dr. Charles Kiyaga, a Director programmes, partnerships and Global Health at NHLSD, Ministry of Health is among this year’s recipients of the Always Be Tolerant Organization (ABETO) Peace award. Dr. Kiyaga was recognized for his outstanding contribution to the medical sector in diagnostic services.
In his acceptance Speech, Dr. Kiyanga shares his journey in Laboratory diagnostics;
It is an honor to be recognized and awarded most especially that I receive this award alongside my former lecturer Dr. Musenero. I am very grateful. My journey of transforming the diagnostic services in Uganda started in 2006 when I was appointed to head the Early Infant Diagnostics program. We needed diagnostic capacity that we did not have within the public sector.
No public sector lab would have the capacity that we needed in molecular diagnostics. So we had to partner with those who had the capacity and at that time nobody trusted the public system and all funders chose to fund vertical programs and so called centers of excellence that received money on behalf of the country to build capacity but it was very hard to actually access services in those Laboratories.
When I started this program, I partnered with other Labs I remember receive a bill of over a billion to pay for the services being rendered in these labs and I had to put my voice in the ministry where to get the money because these labs had been built by donations to the country and services would be available for free to Ugandans especially testing the new born babies for HIV+ mothers.
The ministry told me it does not have money and sent me to donors, the donors said they could not double pay since they built and meet costs to run the partner labs. This left me in a dilemma to continue running the services. Donors told me if I cannot find a way to run these programs, I should close shop. I then appealed to donors to fund public systems since running vertical programs is hard to sustain them but argued that public systems cannot work and cannot support such diagnostic services. This discussion went on until we managed to convince them to fund the public system and they started listening.
I received challenges from the owners of the vertical labs that were threatened by the fact that they would lose funding if we received the funding and I remember getting a warning from my Commissioner at Aids Control Program that the discussion is dangerous and I could lose my life but I did not back down since I believe that if this country is to be any better, someone must do the right thing, I will be happy to die for something that I believe in and inspire those left behind to carry on the fight. That is why I am happy to receive this award.
The discussions continued but stagnated in country due to in country funding frameworks However, an opportunity came that I was invited to San Francisco to go and make a presentation where I shared that all the work is being threatened to come to halt because of the funding frameworks in the country that are killing the public system and appealed to change to fund public systems. They were shocked and told me to miss the press the following day. I was joined by two experts from UNICEF which had sponsored me to attend this workshop. I presented and answered questions from the media outside the press room partners were waiting for me and was whisked away by security because they told me I am frustrating their efforts. This took the stagnated discussion from Uganda to the global level. PEPFAR called the Ugandan office to find out what is causing the fracas and they directed that they should give him money to demonstrate his theory.
On return the discussions did not continue but later got a call form CDC Lab ranch that they had got me money and put it partner x to use it to demonstrate what I was saying in 2010. We then set up our first molecular lab in public system and from there things began scaling. Those who have got to Butabika Lab center whatever you see there came out of this kind of revolution that I spearheaded. When we started everybody was amazed that a public system works and we started getting awards.
I have received a number of awards but this touches the core and I am recalling what happened because I almost lost my life and I am happy whatever I stood for has come to fruition. Uganda is now a model for what we have been able to do that other countries revere us. We have innovated things nobody ever thought were possible in Uganda.
Leaders serve our country and this is our home. Whatever it takes and whatever we do today affects the generation that comes after us. Let everyone of us do their piece and all of us working together we will transform our country. We have innovated and other countries come to bench mark asking how did we do this? But it came out of creativity. All the sample transport mechanisms and everything was innovated by us right from Uganda. Our brains are big, let us not look down on ourselves. We can change our country.
The ABETO Africa Award was established in 1995 in response to the Queen of England's call for tolerance in Harare in recognition of the pivotal role of Pan-African leaders in promoting peace and tolerance. Esteemed personalities such as Nelson Mandela, President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, and Julius Mwarimu Nyerere are among the notable past recipients of this prestigious award.
This year, Dr. Kiyaga had the honor of receiving the award alongside several other distinguished individuals, including Hon. Dr. Ruth Nankabirwa Sentamu, Godfrey Kirumira Kalule, Lady Justice Francis Abodo, Dr. Babirega Akankwasa, Dr. Monica Musenero, John Musinguzi, and Dr. Johnson Byabashaija. Each of them has made significant contributions to Uganda's progress, promoting unity, tolerance, and peace in the nation, which in turn has facilitated its growth and development.
The event served as a platform to highlight the commendable efforts of these honorees, who have worked tirelessly to foster a spirit of togetherness and understanding within Uganda. Their dedication to promoting peace and harmony has been instrumental in shaping the country's trajectory positively.
Upon returning to the NHLSD offices, Dr. Kiyaga presented the award to Commissioner Dr. Susan Nabadda, symbolizing the recognition and appreciation of the institution for his achievements. Additionally, a copy of the citation was given to one of the partner team leaders, Fatim Jallow, who represents the Global Fund country team in Geneva.
Dr. Kiyaga is a recipient of other notable National and International awards for his outstanding contribution to the health sector.
Dr. Kiyaga hands over the award and citation to Global Fund Country Team -Geneva Mission team leader Fatim Jallow at NHLDS boardroom.