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Africa needs more scientists, but...

Africa needs more scientists, but...

Dr. Yaw Bediako

Africa needs more scientists… but also needs its scientist to talk to one another- The African Science Initiative.
Since the launch of the Millennium Development Goals in 2000, many countries in Africa have recorded significant improvements in a number of key development indices. Net enrolment in primary school education increased by 20% between 2000 and 2015 and maternal and all-cause child mortality have also significantly decreased over this period (MDG Report 2015, United Nations). There has also been a significant increase in funding for scientific research aimed at addressing issues faced by people in Africa, with most of this funding going towards medical research and interventions targeting AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. As a result, the numbers of HIV infected people receiving antiretroviral therapy has increased by over 14 million since 2000 and over 900 million insecticide treated bed-nets have been distributed (MDG Report 2015, United Nations).

Despite these successes, approximately 400 million people in Africa currently live in extreme poverty and disparity between rich and poor continues to widen. 40% of people living with HIV do not currently have access to ART and 57% of people in Africa continue to live in areas of moderate-severe risk for malaria (Noor et al. Lancet, 2014). Populations in Africa are also facing new threats as the incidence of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease are increasing at an alarming rate, rapidly displacing infectious diseases as the major causes of morbidity and mortality on the continent. In fact, by 2030 NCDs are projected to be the leading causes of morbidity in low and middle-income countries (LMIC) (BMJ 2012;345:e5812)

 

Alarmingly, despite billions of dollars invested in research “for the continent”, much of the research outputs are credited to scientists outside the continent with Africa-based scientists currently only accounting for 0.72% of global research output. In fact, Africa currently only has 198 researchers per million people compared with 428 in Chile and over 4,000 in the UK and US. To achieve just the world average for the number of researchers per capita, the continent needs another million new PhDs. (http://uis.unesco.org)

Researchers Per Million of the population (British Council: Building PhD Capacity in Sub-Saharan Africa).

 

Government spending on research and development (R&D) is directly correlated with research output. Unfortunately, only 1% of global R&D budget is spent in Africa, compared to the United States, which alone accounted for 26.4% of global research spending in 2016 (2016 Global R&D funding forecast- Industrial Research Institute).

 

Expenditure on R&D as percentage of GDP (British Council: Building PhD Capacity in Sub-Saharan Africa).

 


While science and technology may indeed provide many of the solutions needed in Africa, it should be obvious that any long-term success will depend on the development and empowerment of local scientific capacity, capable of addressing a number of existing challenges and adapting to emerging ones. In line with this the African Union’s Agenda 2063 sets out a bold ambition to transform the continent’s socio-economic fortunes. It outlines a vision of a prosperous Africa, based on inclusive growth and sustainable development, and cites investment in education, skills development and science as three central pillars to achieving this goal.

Key to such a strategy will be retention of talented African scientists in Africa. Indeed, a lack of opportunity sees Africa lose some 20,000 professionals to high-income countries every year. According to a global research report published by Thomas Reuters in 2010, Africa loses a significant portion of its talent because scholars who leave to pursue their higher education often do not return. Whereas there has undoubtedly been an increase in the number of young African researchers in various fields across the continent and in the diaspora, it is difficult to tell how many African research PhDs and scientists are currently working in the continent and beyond, and more importantly, it is difficult to assess their current impact and tap into the diversity of expertise and experience for the benefit of the continent.

That is where ASI comes in! This is the brainchild of a few young African post-docs, who though acutely aware of the immense challenges that face young African scientists are equally convinced that young scientists represent our continent’s greatest asset. ASI is an African-led project seeking to facilitate and promote networking between young African scientists from all around the world. The project aims to enhance the visibility of African contributions to science and catalyse the establishment of productive collaborations between African scientists to develop science and technology in Africa. Our idea is to build a sustainable digital network of young African researchers across the continent and in the diaspora. We hope that a global network of young African researchers will enhance communication between young African researchers and create a platform by which continental and global scientific leadership can identify and engage young researchers.

We are well aware that a platform is only useful if people decide to use it… and so:

  • Are you an African scientist in the diaspora looking to establish professional links on the continent?
  • Are you an African science student in need of better mentorship?
  • Are you an African research scientist looking to recruit capable students?
  • Are you an African scientist in search of funding opportunities?
  • Are you interested in learning about exciting new developments in science and technology in Africa?
  • Are you interested in promoting science and technology in Africa?

If you answered yes to ANY of these questions… Then please sign up today!

As we continue to develop this platform we are aware that a lot of things will need tweaking and improving. Any comments on how to improve the site are most welcome. If you would like to write for the ASI blog, please also contact us at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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