Born in Uganda, Dr. Abdullah (‘Abbey’) Kirumira was forced to flee his homeland during the brutal dictatorship of Idi Amin. He doggedly pursued his dream of becoming a doctor, studying in Iraq and Britain and securing his PhD in Australia before moving to the University of Maryland as a Senior Research Fellow in medical diagnostics.
Kirumira moved to Nova Scotia in the early 1990s to teach biochemistry at Acadia. During this time he also became the founding professor of medical biotechnology at the College of Pharmacy at Dalhousie University.
Driven by his social conscience and an indomitable entrepreneurial spirit, Kirumira decided to fulfill his dream of providing diagnostic tools to poorer nations at an affordable price. This passion led him in 1999 to found BioMedica Diagnostics Inc., in Windsor, Nova Scotia.
BioMedica is a medical biotechnology company that is already a leader in medical diagnostics. It produces a variety of blood coagulation reagents and instruments designed to assess cardiovascular status, cancer risk and an assortment of other health issues.
Using a highly successful strategy that he calls his “technology cross-pollination business model,” Kirumira and BioMedica are able to provide help for the less fortunate while turning a profit.
In partnership with government and international aid agencies such as the World Health Organization, Kirumira’s company routinely places diagnostic equipment in small, resource-poor settings in Africa.
“These kits allow access to laboratory support in resource-poor clinical settings for less than $1 per test,” Kirumira says. With infectious diseases like hepatitis, tuberculosis and malaria rampant in many areas, the need is great.
“Historically, the major problem in Africa has been a lack of valid diagnostics. Our goal is to cut the rate of deaths by 25 per cent through the introduction of proper diagnostic tools. It is my dream to reduce that rate substantially, to make a real difference there. Cash-strapped clinics would be unable to afford traditional diagnostic labs. We can change that. My vision is to establish affordable laboratory medicine in Third World countries that do not have access to diagnostic equipment because it is too costly, or because they are without the appropriate technology.”
Refreshingly, Kirumira’s pioneering achievements have been heralded by business and humanitarian organizations alike.
In 2006 he received the Acadia University President’s Award for Entrepreneurship. Honours from the World Economic Forum and Planet Africa followed.
In 2007, The Economist presented him with the prestigious Bioscience Innovation Award for his 1993 invention of the first rapid-acting HIV screening test. The three-minute test was developed by Kirumira and Acadia graduate student and now President of MedMira Hermes Chan (’88) for the early detection of HIV. It is now being distributed globally and is the fastest test in the world to diagnose HIV.
In 2010, Kirumira won the Harry Jerome Technology Innovation Award for Affordable Medical Technologies and in 2011 was a finalist for the Ernst Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award.
He received an honorary doctorate from Acadia in 2013.
Written by Jim Prime (’69)