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Pandemic is giving African scientists a chance to shine


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(courtesy: Research Professional News, 23 Apr 2020)

Pandemic is giving African scientists a chance to shine

(courtesy: Research Professional News, 23 Apr 2020)

By proving themselves in coronavirus response, scientists could gird themselves for economic storms to come

The coronavirus pandemic is threatening economies around the globe. But the research-based advice and services many top African scientists are giving their governments could help them argue for funding in a post-crisis financial downturn.

"There is quite a bit of optimism in the scientific community at the moment," says Moses Alobo, a programme manager at the African Academy of Sciences, a grant management and science advocacy organisation based in Nairobi, Kenya.

"Policymakers are listening now, compared to previously," he says. Many AAS fellows, who are senior scientists, are involved in shaping their countries’ coronavirus response plans. And when scientists work with governments to, for example, manufacture ventilators locally, it "plants a seed" for future partnerships, he says. "We think and believe that the recommendation that 2 per cent of GDP be spent on R&D will probably be taken a little bit more seriously now." 

Ernest Aryeetey, secretary-general of the African Research Universities Alliance, is of the same mind. Most of the association’s 16 member universities from nine African countries are formally or informally providing decision-makers in their countries with advice on how to navigate the ravages of the virus. “We’ve seen around the world universities respond positively to the pandemic. In Africa, it’s not very different," he says.

Aryeetey says the pandemic has already shown politicians that money spent on research is not wasted. But he says universities will need this goodwill in order to weather the tough financial times to come. He expects governments all over the world will need to make deep spending cuts as they fight the pandemic. “African governments don’t put much [money] anyway [in research], but I worry that it’s not going to get better,” he says. 

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