Tuesday, October 20, 2009
etcgroup holds meeting with UHSPA-uganda
A group of civil society actors want Uganda to establish a policy framework to manage the use and application of nanotechnology, a new advanced science whose safety is not yet establish.
At a meeting of science stakeholders at the Common Wealth Resort in Munyonyo yesterday, the experts on the technology said local cotton farmers, saloon operators who use nanotechnology derived beauty products were at risk of health complications.
Nanotechnology is a science that manipulates matter at the scale of atoms and molecules. The atoms can be used in a wide range of applications like food, medicine, cosmetics, pesticides and crop sector development.
Ms Kathy Jo Wetter, a Programme Manager with the action group on erosion, technology and concentration (etcgroup), an international group monitoring the use of the technology said Uganda needs to prepare her population for the era of new science.
She said the technology would remove many peoople from their jobs at almost the scale of the industrial revolution in Europe, because large items can be made with simple manipulation of nature.
Ms Wetter wondered the ethical implications of the technology, which is scrutinizing the entire concept of life by coming up with new brain signals that can live for over 200 years.
“What it means is that the entire concept of life and health is to be changed,” she said.
Mr. Fredric Ssempala, the Curriculum specialist at the Mulago-Mbarara Teaching Hospitals’ Joint Aids Programme said some products of the technology were already on the Ugandan market.
“ But greed and selfishness are the two most powerful elements driving this science. Uganda should develop standards and policies to review importation of nano based products in the country,” Ssempala said.
He said other sciences including synthetic biology, which involves developing laboratory copies of viruses, cells or bacteria that simulate the natural ones were a threat to agricultural productivity.
Ssempala said currently Norvatis, a Swiss based company was looking at developing synthetic active ingredients that make coartem, the first line malaria drug, instead of relying on farmers who grow artemissia annua, from which the current natural ingredients are extrcated.
Ms. Molley Kane, another officer from etcgroup said scientists were looking at manipulating climate to determine when it can rain or not, which she equated to playing God. But Ms
Ms Ruth Mbabazi, the Secretary to the National Bio-safety Committee said recently that Uganda had no policy or tools to evaluate products of nanotechnology, before pronouncing them to be safe and sold on the market. One of the most popular product is the biodisc, claimed to replenish the body when ones pours water on the glass-like structure and drinks.
She however said some products were already on the market. The committee comprising of experts from various research and policy institutions, also looks at UNCST approved technology research in Uganda has a big mandate in monitoring products of genetic medication like those from biotechnology.
So far, the committee monitors confined genetically modified banana research in Kawanda, and cassava at Namulonge agriculture research institutes. But biotechnology, involving the transfer or modification of a specific gene with desired traits is quite different from nanotechnology, yet Uganda is also still struggling with developing a regulatory framework.
Ms Mbabazi said it was important that the environmental, health and safe use of genetically modified organism (GMOs) is understood. “Nanotechnology should fall within our mandate. Uganda needs to be aggressive with developing laws to monitor its use,” she said.
But Dr. Terry Kahuma, the Executive Director of Uganda National Bureau of Standards ( UNBS), said there is a need to develop standards to ascertain and quantify the effectiveness of new products of nanotech. He said UNBS had come up with a mechanism of developing standards for health products, if they have a “perceived danger”.
“But buying a product is voluntary. Use your eyes and ask questions,” Dr Kahuma said.
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