While UK science budgets may be facing cuts, the latest budget rounds in many African countries such as Tanzania and Kenya have made pledges to science and innovation in an effort to increase its own domestic scientific research landscape.
ASTII, an African-run science initiative which gathers research data to monitor the continent’s scientific performance, is developing and growing rapidly. Last year a consortium of six leading research universities and the Association of University Technology Managers (AUTM) announced their endorsement of a far-reaching “Statement of Principles and Strategies for the Equitable Dissemination of Medical Technologies” in the developing world; a major step in implementing technology transfer strategies that promote the availability of health-related technologies in developing countries for essential medical care.
Despite this optimism however, articles published in BMC International Health and Human Rights has identified 25 ‘stagnant technologies’ languishing in African health-research institutions. These articles draw on the experiences of authorities, researchers and entrepreneurs in Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda where, despite a growing body of research exists, Africa is struggling to develop these local discoveries into drugs and other health-care inventions.
Nibima, for example, a Ghanaian herbal anti-malarial therapy which also helps to manage HIV symptoms is threatened by funding problems. There is scant institutional support for knowledge transfer, after initial basic research funding, but there is nobody willing to take these findings forward.
The papers also identify products that have succeeded against tough odds. Tanzania’s A to Z Textiles company based in Arusha, Tanzania has become one of the world’s largest producers of insecticide-treated nets to prevent malaria. Donor funding played a critical role in helping the company overcome local barriers of procurement and regulatory issues.
These studies demonstrate that, with the right partners and incentives along with support from governments, Africans have the scientific creativity and entrepreneurial talent to improve local health and prosper at the same time.