Mapping the progress of science in Africa

The  World Conference on Science, held in conjunction with UNESCO and the ICSU in 1999, declared, ‘Equal access to science is not only a social and ethical requirement for human development, but also essential for realizing the full potential of scientific communities worldwide and for orienting scientific progress towards meeting the needs of humankind.’

Several efforts are being made to transform this declaration into a reality. 2010 was the target year for many African science policy milestones.  It was a year that marked the five-year anniversary of the Gleneagles G8 summit 2005, when world leaders vowed to double their contributions to development aid and African presidents aimed to allocate 1% of their countries’ GDP to science and technology. Unfortunately neither of these targets were fully met, however it is encouraging to see Africa’s domestic science initiatives steadily increase.

The commitment of various African nations to science grew strongly in the past year; Uganda and Tanzania unveiled science-friendly national budgets in June and Angola issued a draft science and technology policy, which was approved in November. The Tanzanian government increased the allocation of its commission for science and technology thirty-fold. It now boasts the desired figure – 1% of the GDP – to be spent on S&T that the continent had aimed for. 

2011 marks the beginning of an African ‘decade for science’ as countries across the continent make plans to reduce their foreign aid dependency. Developing countries, however, still rank access to subscription-based journals as one of their most pressing problems. A recent study by the Southern African Regional Universities Association highlighted comparably dire findings with respect to the lack of access to and dissemination of research publications in the region.

This is a serious issue which, if not addressed, will stunt scientific progress in the developing world. Open access publisher BioMed Central is a publishing partner of Research4Life, the collective name given to HINARI, AGORA and OARE, the three public-private partnerships that offer research for free or at very low cost to developing countries. Open access publishers offer free online access to research and play a large role in helping to maintain the domestic science initiatives running in these countries. 

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