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Panelists of Creating Opportunities for Health Scientists in Disease Endemic Countries and GHDonline staff

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Opportunities for Health Scientists in Countries Where Malaria, HIV/AIDS, and TB are Endemic

Added on 03 Sep 2013

Authors: By Sungano Mharakurwa, PhD; Reviewed by Sophie Beauvais

Health scientists play a vital role in the health system and economy of nations. They contribute evidence for disease control and elimination; they participate in the creation of ethical and evidence-based policies, and they enhance national technical capacity. The evidence health scientists generate is utilized to improve health and health equity at all levels of the health system. The huge disease burden they prevent confers substantial economic gains through increased productivity from a healthy population and savings on national health expenditure.

Unfortunately, as many of us know firsthand, research capacity in disease-endemic countries remains one of the biggest unmet challenges. In sub-Saharan Africa for example, health research in most countries has an allocation of less than 0.5% of national health budgets (only Malawi, Uganda and South Africa spend more than 1% of their GDP on R&D). Worldwide, the Council on Health Research for Development estimates that 98% of health R&D expenditures are made in high income countries, and that only 25% of research on neglected diseases is done in developing countries. (WHO. 2004)  (COHRED Global Forum for Health Research. 2012 Report). This discussion examines the current status, challenges and prospects of opportunities for endemic country scientists.

Key Points

1. Suggested steps for increasing opportunities available to health scientists in DEC

  • Researchers need to make the case to their governments that health research is an investment for national development, and should work and push for a national framework on health research that identifies research priorities for their countries and help to guide in relevant capacity building. It is also important for governments to realize that research is an ongoing activity, even in underfunded countries.
  • High level regional meetings need to be organized by the scientific community with key national administrators to show the benefits of science.
  • Donors can facilitate and require counterpart scientists to be present and take over programmes funded for long term action. The symposium of Nobel laureates, scientists, and others from around the world, hosted by Gabon President Ali Bongo Ondimba, celebrating the 100th anniversary of the Albert Schweitzer Hospital in Lambarene, Gabon is an exciting example of such potentially course-changing meetings. The symposium culminated in a "Lambarene Declaration", which emphasizes the urgent need to strengthen African science and health worker training in the fight against the "Triple Epidemic" (HIV/AIDS, TB, and malaria).
  • Career opportunities with competitive conditions of employment need to be fostered. Governments must realize that expertise is exportable, so careers need to be challenging and competitive.
  • Countries should have local and national scientific associations and (or) science academies to keep interest in science, to look after members, to provide expertise for Governments in making health decisions, to help universities, colleges and schools, and any other educational initiatives. The Ministerial Meeting in Bamako in 2008 was cited as an example.
  • Establishing institutional reviews boards (IRBs) and national research ethics committees should be priority. These should not be an impediment but rather an agent for ensuring a high standard of ethical and quality research.

2. Examples of policies, incentives, and collaborations that contribute to in-country research