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Brain behind 'made in Uganda' ARVs

To the government, Emmanuel Katongole is an ally in achieving its goal of self-reliance. To Ugandans -and soon Africans- affected by HIV/AIDS, he is a source of hope.

The clean-shaven, soft-spoken, stylish Katongole, with budding grey hair in his head, is the Chief Executive Officer of the Luzira- based Quality Chemical Industries Ltd. The company produces Anti-Retroviral Drugs (ARVs) and anti-malaria drugs (Artemesin Combination Therapies).
The pharmaceutical plant worth $32 million is a joint venture between CIPLA Ltd, a pharmaceutical company based in Asia, and Quality Chemicals Ltd where Katongole, 47, is Managing Director.
Quality Chemical Industries is the first plant approved by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Sub-Saharan Africa outside South Africa.
Katongole says their production will reduce the monthly cost for ARVs medication from $15 to $8 (approximately Shs 30,000 to Shs 16,000).
He also foresees an increase in their production from the current 2 million tablets a day to 6 million tablets a day, with increasing demand for the drugs.
Already employing 200 people, Katongole also sees a rise in its workers to 600 technical staff and a host of other non-technical staff.
In five years’ time, Katongole hopes that the industry will be producing raw materials for manufacturing ARVs, which are currently imported.
With such prospects, Katongole is right to be delighted in “offering a local solution to local problems.”
Katongole is also an astute manager. Under his care, Quality Chemical Industries won the 2007 Investor of the Year award given by Uganda Investment Authority.
“I am excited about it,” he says, revealing the secret to the company’s success. “Our investment is very unique, it touches on an area that very few people expected would be done in Uganda.”
Katongole says their success was made possible by discipline, honesty in using funds. “Our desire was high and we were determined and dedicated to fulfil it,” he says.
His success is also triumph over bottlenecks to investment in Uganda. He laments about the high interest rates, unstable power supply, and low purchasing power among Ugandans. “The consuming public is small because of less money in people’s pockets, which makes the possibility of expanding business limited,” he points out. Bad roads and uncommitted workers who switch jobs every now and then, also make it on Katongole’s list on business bottlenecks afflicting Uganda.
Success in the science industry would tempt one to think that Katongole is a scientist.
Far from it. “I am a businessman and economist,” he says.
He holds Master of Arts (Economic Policy Planning) and Bachelor of Statistics degrees, both of Makerere University.
Nevertheless, Katongole is not entirely out of place as his childhood dream was to pursue a career in the sciences. At one time he wanted to be a medical doctor, and later an engineer. His interest in business developed well after his university studies.
Quality Chemicals
In 1997, Katongole and his five colleagues formed Quality Chemicals Ltd to import and distribute human and animal pharmaceutical products.
All his co-founders are still actively involved in company business- Francis Kitaka (Chairman, Quality Chemicals Industry), Edward Martin (Chairman, Quality Chemicals Ltd), and Randall Tierney (Director). Others are George Baguma (Director, Marketing), and Fred Mutebi (Director, Finance).
As the business expanded, the company moved from mainly importing and selling animal drugs such as antibiotics and dewormers, to becoming agents of CIPLA Ltd (India); selling its ARVs and anti-malarial drugs in Uganda.
+Their work as agents for CIPLA Ltd was eye-opening.
“The number of users was big, we realised there was an opportunity, so we said why don’t we ask CIPLA for technology to manufacture them here?”
In 2005, they started negotiations with CIPLA Ltd which now co-owns Quality Chemicals Industries with Quality Chemicals Ltd based in Katwe.
Under the agreement, CIPLA Ltd provides technical staff to the industry.
“What I do is purely administrative,” he says, adding that the technical staff are mainly from India.
Excited Katongole
Last month, their first bunch of locally manufactured ARVs hit the market, with Vice President Prof. Gilbert Bukenya flagging off the consignment.
“It is exciting and gratifying. We are proud to be beefing up local manufacturing,” he said, unable to hide his joy. For quality output, Katongole says, they follow pharmaceutical regulations set by agencies such as WHO, the United States Food and Drug Administration, and National Drug Authority (Uganda.)
Quality Chemical Industries aims at satisfying the local market before producing for the external market, specifically East Africa, and then the Great Lakes Region. Justifying their investment in anti-malaria drugs and ARVs, Katongole says, “these constitute the worst catastrophes; they are the biggest killers.”
HIV/AIDS has lately been on the rebound in Uganda, a trend some have linked to increased availability of ARVs, which they say have made people complacent.
But Katongole has reservations. “I am not so sure as to whether ARVs have increased HIV infections, but if it is true then it should be checked because ARVs prolong life but do not cure AIDS.” Katongole instead attributes the rising infections to “a lot of laxity like on using condoms, and unfaithfulness…”
Childhood ambitions
Born in Bulera, “a typical village of peasants,” in present day Mityana district, Katongole is the last born and only boy in a family of four.
Despite his humble roots, he dreamt big while still young. He at one time wanted to be a doctor, later an engineer, but as he admits today, “the world usually throws us in other areas.” He settled for statistics.
“It was unique and few people were studying it, so there was a lot of attraction to it and many job opportunities,” he explains what informed his change of heart.
Katongole’s background, coupled with his father’s death in 1966 when he was four years old, meant that getting school fees was hard.
“Money was scarce but not as difficult to get as it is today,” he says. Thanks to his mother, Katongole somehow managed to go through school.
He went to Buyambi Primary School in Mityana before joining Namilyango College for O-level. He vividly recalls how they paid Shs 650 as fees annually.
Katongole was at Kampala High School for A-level.
Married to Resty, the mother of his four children, Katongole plays chess, swims, and reads business journals and magazines during his free time. He is also passionate about charity, voluntary work, Rotary and church activities.
At St. Balikudembe Primary School Seeta, he is board chairman; he is also Vice Chairman of the Cardinal Nsubuga Memorial Nursery School, and Treasurer of the Mapeera Disabled Home Nalukolongo.
In addition, Katongole is Chairman of the Kampala Archdiocese Seminarians Fund, member of the Muteesa 1 Royal University Council, Vice Chairman Uganda Pharmaceutical Manufacturer’s Association, and Vice Chairman Kampala Archdiocese Governance Council.
Membership to such church bodies is revealing of Katongole’s pious character. Indeed this is further revealed when one enters his office to find a portrait of him shaking hands with the deceased Pope John Paul II when he visited Uganda in 1993.
In other photos, Katongole is shaking hands with President Museveni, then with Vice President, Prof. Gilbert Bukenya.
Katongole wants to be remembered as “someone who touched hearts of many suffering people and brought smiles to them.”
With “his” ARVs now on market, many HIV/AIDS patients could well say Amen to that.


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