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African scientists sense a once-in-a-life opportunity to push for research funding


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(courtesy: Quartz Africa)

African scientists sense a once-in-a-life opportunity to push for research funding

(courtesy: Quartz Africa)

Scientists in Africa, who have long complained of poor funding and weak policy support for their research see an opportunity to convince governments and the private sector of a need to prioritize their R&D in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic.

The African Academy of Sciences (AAS) has already raised the first batch of funds and is currently working with the African Union (AU) to establish a template that will improve R&D funding across the continent. Back in 2006, African Union member countries committed to spend at least 1% of their GDP on R&D by 2010, but few countries have come close. South Africa, the continent’s most advanced economy, spent about 0.82% of GDP from 2015 to 2019. This compares with around 2.4% for OECD and 2.8% for the United States.

The Covid-19 pandemic has shown African governments the importance of having a strong research and development system as scientists are being relied on for knowledge on the disease and development of solutions for tests, treatments, and even to take leadership in the battle against the disease. However African scientists are not equipped like their counterparts in other regions to effectively carry out these responsibilities.

The lack of funding is hindering Covid–19 R&D across the continent with instances of activities in labs that are supposed to be engaged in medical research being limited to sample testing. In 2019, Africa accounted for 0.9 % of global R&D spending.

The AAS is concerned African R&D is overly dependent on funding from outside the continent and sees this pandemic as an opportunity to push for African countries to work towards realizing 2006’s 1% of GDP goal. “Most African researchers, depend on research funding from outside Africa for their work. This should never be the case,” says professor Nelson Torto, the executive director of AAS.

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