African innovation for health, economic growth

African scientists and innovators are inventing exciting new health products.

These include a new vaccine for Group B Streptococcus, an infection that disproportionately kills and debilitates African infants; low-cost devices and kits to prevent mothers dying in childbirth; a tablet computer for conducting heart examinations in remote areas; and improved tests to diagnose tuberculosis in minutes, compared with hours or even days.

Perhaps one of the best-kept global secrets is how a new era of African-driven innovation and development in science and technology is expanding across the continent, catalysed by changes in economics, demographics and health.

A pipeline of high-impact, cost-effective health technologies for use in Africa has the potential to improve health outcomes, boost economic development and reduce extreme poverty.

In recognition of these opportunities, Path, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, LeapFrog Investments, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad) Agency and the Wellcome Trust convened the Innovation Effect Africa on May  2 in Durban on the margins of the World Economic Forum (WEF) on Africa 2017.

The event brought together African and international leaders from across sectors to highlight promising initiatives, foster new partnerships and call for investments that will further accelerate Africa’s bid to become a major global player in health technology development.

The time is ripe to advance science, technology and innovation in Africa.

There is strong political will, as evidenced by heads of state committing to the African Union’s Science, Technology and Innovation Strategy for Africa 2024 and by the establishment of the Presidential Committee on Science and Technology.

Both efforts are designed to create an enabling environment for research and development (R&D) and multisector collaboration to advance, science technology and innovation.

African governments have made a number of commitments — at the continental, regional and national levels — to increase funding for health R&D.

They have endorsed plans to invest in local science, technology and innovation to foster a more prosperous and peaceful Africa and to achieve the goals and aspirations embedded in the African Union Agenda 2063 and the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals.

In fact, the rate of increase in domestic funding for innovation in some African countries has begun to outpace that of Western nations.

For example, recent data show that the South African government has invested a greater percentage of its gross domestic product (GDP) into global health R&D than several of its European counterparts, placing it among the top 12 funders of R&D worldwide when ranked by percentage of GDP.

Through programmes such as the Strategic Health Innovation Partnerships, the South African government is establishing platforms that enable local innovators to translate ideas into solutions.

Other promising initiatives include a number of cross-sector partnerships and collaborations.

At the WEF in Davos early in 2017, an alliance of African science leaders and international funders established the Coalition for African Research and Innovation (Cari), designed to build a co-ordinated, well-funded and innovative African R&D community.

New sources of funding are available through groups such as the Alliance for Accelerating Excellence in Science in Africa (Aesa), which is led by the African Academy of Sciences and the Nepad Agency.

It manages a large portfolio of research projects and provides leadership and support for researchers across the continent.

Another group, the African Innovation Foundation, has established the Innovation Prize for Africa to support Africans to promote home-grown solutions for Africa’s prosperity.

Across the continent, a growing number of private investors, philanthropists and multinational donors seek to invest in African science and technology as the best way to ensure sustainable, local, social and economic benefits.

But even with these new and impressive R&D initiatives in science, technology and innovation, many challenges remain.

Health R&D in many African countries is still largely reliant on donor country investments.

Despite increases in domestic spending in several countries, the recent Africa Capacity Report noted that foreign sources still contribute a large portion of gross domestic expenditure on research and experimental development in several countries, for example, 57% in Uganda, 47% in Kenya and 42% in Tanzania.

Furthermore, implementation of policies needed to support innovation has been slow, and only a fraction of commitments made by governments have resulted in actual funding. Additionally, many African government entities that oversee, regulate and carry out R&D for health have unclear, overlapping roles and responsibilities, making it difficult for researchers and innovators to navigate.

These challenges must be addressed for the benefit of future generations. Africa urgently needs science, technology and innovation to secure a healthier, more prosperous and sustainable future. Investments in health research will not only deliver improved health outcomes but also boost economic growth and create jobs.

With a young, driven and inventive population, Africa has all the key ingredients needed to shape its destiny.

National and regional government bodies, private companies, civil society organisations and research and academic institutions have an important role to play.

We encourage all of these stakeholders to join forces to unlock the power of innovation that will pave the way for a healthy and prosperous future for Africa. 

African governments have made a number of commitments — at the continental, regional and national levels — to increase funding for health R&D.

They have endorsed plans to invest in local science, technology and innovation to foster a more prosperous and peaceful Africa and to achieve the goals and aspirations embedded in the African Union Agenda 2063 and the United Nation’s Sustainable Development Goals.

In fact, the rate of increase in domestic funding for innovation in some African countries has begun to outpace that of western nations.

For example, recent data show that the South African government has invested a greater percentage of its gross domestic product (GDP) into global health R&D than several of its European counterparts, placing it among the top 12 funders of R&D worldwide when ranked by percentage of GDP.

Through programmes such as the Strategic Health Innovation Partnerships, the South African government is establishing platforms that enable local innovators to translate ideas into solutions.

Other promising initiatives include a number of cross-sector partnerships and collaborations.

At the WEF in Davos early in 2017, an alliance of African science leaders and international funders established the Coalition for African Research and Innovation, designed to build a co-ordinated, well-funded and innovative African R&D community.

New sources of funding are available through groups such as the Alliance for Accelerating Excellence in Science in Africa (Aesa), which is led by the African Academy of Sciences and the Nepad Agency.

It manages a large portfolio of research projects and provides leadership and support for researchers across the continent.

Another group, the African Innovation Foundation, has established the Innovation Prize for Africa to support Africans to promote home-grown solutions for Africa’s prosperity.

Across the continent, a growing number of private investors, philanthropists and multinational donors seek to invest in African science and technology as the best way to ensure sustainable, local, social and economic benefits.

But even with these new and impressive R&D initiatives in science, technology and innovation, many challenges remain. Health R&D in many African countries is still largely reliant on donor country investments.

Despite increases in domestic spending in several countries, the recent Africa Capacity Report noted that foreign sources still contribute a large portion of gross domestic expenditure on research and experimental development in several countries, for example 57% in Uganda, 47% in Kenya and 42% in Tanzania.

Furthermore, implementation of policies needed to support innovation has been slow, and only a fraction of commitments made by governments have resulted in actual funding.

Additionally, many African government entities that oversee, regulate and carry out R&D for health have unclear, overlapping roles and responsibilities, making it difficult for researchers and innovators to navigate.

These challenges must be addressed for the benefit of future generations. Africa urgently needs science, technology and innovation to secure a healthier, more prosperous and sustainable future.

Investments in health research will not only deliver improved health outcomes but also boost economic growth and create jobs.

With a young, driven and inventive population, Africa has all the key ingredients needed to shape its destiny. National and regional government bodies, private companies, civil society organisations and research and academic institutions have an important role to play.

We encourage all of these stakeholders to join forces to unlock the power of innovation that will pave the way for a healthy and prosperous future for Africa. — Mail and Guardian

One Response to African innovation for health, economic growth

  1. Mebt Endalamaw October 19, 2017 at 10:39 pm #

    Simplu thank you for those who are working restlessly to improve the health of african children and infants.

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