Yokohama - A Ugandan medical expert Dr. Alex Coutinho who recently won a $1m (sh2.5b) prestigious health award has been honoured and received his prize in Japan.
He won the prize for pioneering efforts to expand access to life-sparing medicine to people infected with HIV virus.
Coutinho, who jointly won the 2nd Hideyo Noguchi Africa award with former, UNAIDS Executive Director Dr. Peter Piot of Belgium told journalists in Yokohama that he would spend the money on leadership training of Uganda health workers where he has identified a gap.
They formally received the prize on Saturday evening from the Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, at a colourful function attended by the Japanese Emperor Akihito and a host of other international guests attending the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD). The prize is composed of a citation, a medal and a honorarium of 100m yen ($1m) each.
Coutinho, who retires next year as the Director of Infectious Diseases Institute, Makerere University was recently named one of the 20 most influential Ugandans in the fight against HIV/Aids.
"I thank the Japanese government for the prize. The Japanese government has been a player to the many African countries in the areas of health and infrastructure," he stated.
He said since he was awarded the prize for work he did with other people, he would use the money for mentoring and training hundreds of health workers and a cross section of community care givers. "There is a missing ingredient in leadership among health workers to sensitize and mobilize them to deliver services. I will replicate this in Uganda. I will invest in leadership skills of particularly rural doctors and midwives," he explained.
But he expressed worry about the rise in the HIV prevalence rate in Uganda from 6% to 7%. He attributed the increase to complacency. "Some people have begun to take risks, having multiple partners and unprotected sex.
"There is still work to be done. I appeal to the Government of Japan to continue in this global partnership and the African countries to put more resources to tackle these diseases."
Coutinho has been selected to deliver the Noguchi commemorative address at the United Nations University in Tokyo on June 4. He will talk about his experience in expanding access to medical treatment for HIV sufferers in Uganda, while Dr. Piot will address global health challenges.
Before joining IDI, Dr. Coutinho spent six years as the Executive Director of The Aids Support Organisation (TASO).
Piot thanked the Japanese government for the award and interest in the healthcare in African countries.
Piot who is now the Director and professor of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical medicine was awarded the prize because of his work with diseases endemic to much of the African continent including HIV, Ebola, Tuberclosis and Gonorrhea. He told the New Vision he would use the money to provide scholarships to health workers to go for training in London and Japan.
He was part of the team that discovered Ebola in Zaire (now DRC) in 1976 and among the first to confirm the presence of heterosexually transmitted HIV and pediatric AIDS in Africa as well as the link between HIV and Tuberclosis.
Piot said there was no end in sight on getting the AIDS cure. He commented: "We had some hopes a few years ago, but recently in April, the trials in the US had to be stopped because the vaccine did not show any results. We should not hope that there will be one in the next few years."
The Noguchi Africa prize honors individuals with outstanding achievements in the fields of medical research and services to combat infectious and other diseases in Africa. The prize was established by the Government of Japan in July 2006 but first awarded at TICAD IV meeting in 2008 is in memory of Dr.Hideyo Noguchi, a Japanese whose contribution to medical advancement and self-sacrificing activities in Africa remain a model of professionalism. It is awarded once every five years, coinciding with the convening of TICAD.