Written by URN
Celebrated Covid-19 herbal drug, Covidex inventor Prof Patrick Ogwang Engeu has been sued for alleged abuse of office and Covidex ownership by lawyer George William Alenyo.
Alenyo is seeking High court orders to compel Ogwang to remit all monies collected from the sale of the popular supplementary treatment drug to the consolidated fund, claiming he's not the lawful proprietor of Covidex.
Alenyo is joined in the suit by Christian Chamber of Commerce, Agriculture, Industry, Trade and Tourism which claims to fight criminality, corruption and to promote access to companies' data worldwide so as to enable people to know who they are working with or working for.
They have sued Ogwang alongside 12 statutory bodies before the High court civil division in Kampala for alleged failure to perform their statutory duties including failure to do due diligence to establish the true ownership of Covidex, failure to collect tax and remit it to government coffers, failure to obtain environmental impact assessment of the impact of the ongoing extraction or exploitation of millions of the tree species expected to be used to make millions of vials of Covidex, among others.
Prof Ogwang is sued alongside National Drug Authority (NDA), Uganda National Bureau of Standards (UNBS), National Environmental Authority (NEMA), National Forestry Authority (NFA), Mbarara University of Science and Technology (MUST), Uganda Registration and Services Bureau (URSB), Pharmaceutical Society of Uganda, Jena Herbals Uganda Limited, Uganda Revenue Authority (URA), Natural Chemotherapeutics Research Institute, Uganda Wildlife Authority (UWA) and the Attorney General.
The petitioners fault the Attorney General for representative action for the acts and omissions of government officials, public officials and civil servants in the aforementioned offices and agencies failed to ensure that Covidex funds and revenue are placed in the consolidated fund.
The Covidex drug hit the market about a month ago with claims and 'testimonies' that it cures the novel coronavirus disease within about 10 days. Following immense public pressure, it was approved by the NDA last week as a supportive treatment in the management of viral infections and since then the prices for each 20ml bottle have increased from Shs 3,000 to prices ranging between Shs 25,000 and Shs 200,000 due to increased demand.
Ogwang last week said the drug should not be priced beyond Shs 12,000 since it's got from the factory at Shs 6,000. Despite production of 30,000 bottles per day, there is a high shortage of Covidex with demand stretching to neighboring Kenya and Rwanda.
In a Capital FM interview last week, it was put to Ogwang that he probably faces an imminent mighty Big Pharma resistance from European and American pharmaceuticals manufacturing Covid-19 drugs and vaccines. He said there is not much the Big Pharma can do since all the raw materials used for Covidex are locally sourced and are in plenty to even serve the entire world for the next 10 years.
Alenyo's suit is the latest hurdle Ogwang has faced with Covidex after NDA initially banned the drug and warned drug shops against stocking, saying it had not been approved. Before the approval, Ogwang faced disinclination from his own university which accused him of rushing to declare a formula still under development as complete. After the approval, there's was another squabble with the university over ownership of the Covidex project before they allegedly reached an agreement.
Now, according to the evidence before the High court, the petitioners argue that in 1986, the ruling government came to power and launched a ten-point program to lead the people of Uganda, and the number six point was to create a vibrant health sector.
The evidence submitted adds that from 1986 to 2006, Uganda was a non-party state and all the National Resistance Movement programmes in Uganda were funded from the consolidated fund.
It adds that in 1989, the government and the Republic of Cuba under the late Fidel Castro signed a solidarity agreement to benefit the people of Uganda and established MUST in Uganda.
"In 2001, the government of Uganda with a World Bank facilitation established the Pharma Bio-Technology and Traditional Management Centre; one of the eastern and southern Africa higher education centre of excellence, promoting herbal and natural products in Africa," the suit states.
The suit also indicates that in June 2021 Ogwang, a public servant who draws his salary from the consolidated fund at MUST and the Pharma Bio Centre applied for his personal name and obtained clearance from the NDA to sell and personally collect revenue from a drug called Covidex, developed at government facilities and laboratories and with staff of MUST and Pharma Bio Centre.
"The plaintiffs aver that actions of the 1st defendant (Ogwang) to attempt to own another's (Government of Uganda) patent on Covidex in trust for the people of Uganda, is unlawful and the 1st defendant ought to be condemned to general damages and a permanent injunction to be issued against him to claim Covidex patent," the petitioners' document further reads in part.
Through their lawyers of Katongole and Company Advocates, the petitioners argue that government departments especially the Auditor General's department failed to audit government funding to Covidex and other viral research, and also failed to institute an accounting system to collect and receive Covidex revenue.
The suit accuses "the Attorney General for abdicating its role to ensure a constitutionally enacted legal framework for government's share in Covidex proceeds," and "the Public Service Commission in failing to regulate civil servants abusing their offices, government protocols and facilities for their personal benefit."
The petitioners now want a declaration that the Covidex drug is a proprietary patent for the government of Uganda, having been developed on government funds, premises, laboratories and by government public servants paid salaries from the consolidated fund.
They also want court to order the URA to revert all tax issues related to Covidex to the government of Uganda under the Public Finance Act and close all taxation and revenue accounts in the names of Ogwang and his company Jena Herbals Uganda Limited.
All the 13 respondents have already been summoned by the civil division registrar Jamson Karemani to file their defense within 15 days. Karemani has also allocated the file to the head of civil division judge Musa Ssekaana who is yet to fix it for hearing.
In his interview with Capital Radio, Ogwang who is guarded by presidential guards and has since been stopped from carrying out any further interviews said he developed the Covidex formula more than 10 years ago from the Z. Gilleti and Warburgia Ugandensis plants to treat totally different diseases. He said government did not even consider him as one of the herbal innovators when it made a call for innovations into treatment against Covid-19 last year.
According to Ogwang he discovered Covidex treats Covid-19 after he tried the formula on his visiting American friend who'd contracted the virus in Uganda. Ogwang claims once given Covidex, his American friend got cured within two days. He also claims when he contracted Covid-19 last month, he used Covidex and got cured within a week in addition other family members and friends. Even before approval, several people took to social media to give 'testimonies' about how Covidex had cured their family members.
"You know, plants have several compounds in them; one plant can have over 200 compounds. What’s most important is how you extract them, organize them to handle a particular disease. Knowing that this plant has antiviral properties, which in the villages are used against measles and certain coughs, and since Covid is a virus, I thought the two could be linked. One of my friends, an American professor I had invited to come to Mbarara University [of Science and Technology – MUST] to help us develop a certain programme. He had to leave everything and come live at MUST, to begin a new programme in clinical pharmacy. He came without pay," Ogwang said on Capital FM.
"One day God put it in my heart, that ‘that formula there, which you are using for wounds in the mouth, dental pain, could help this man’; because, Covid stays in your nose, and in your throat; that’s where it multiplies itself initially before it goes to the lungs. If you can handle it from the nose and throat, you have weakened it," he added.