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  • African science 'needs public and political support'


[NAIROBI] The former director of one of the world's largest funders of medical research told a gathering of scientists in Kenya last week that African countries should embrace science to speed their development, but that to do so would need support both of the public and of politicians.

Bridget Ogilvie, who directed the Wellcome Trust between 1991 and 1998, made her comments at the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) in Nairobi on 24 November, in its sixth annual Peter Doherty Distinguished Lecture.

Ogilvie said solutions to problems such as poor agricultural yields, HIV/AIDS and malaria "can't be imposed from outside". She stressed the "fundamental" need for governments that are seeking aid to realise "that solving these problems will largely depend on scientific research findings and technological innovations, mostly from within".

To achieve this, she said, African nations should include greater support for science when requesting development aid from the donor community. Science was crucial for development, said Ogilvie, although she stressed that it did not offer quick solutions.

Ogilvie went on to warn that the African public might adopt the "current anti-science mood of 'post-modernist' Britain" because of the activities of non-governmental organisations opposed to certain scientific activities, such as genetic modification of crops.

"Science was highly regarded [in the United Kingdom] but it isn't now, which is odd when one thinks that the molecular and DNA revolutions, plus advances in chemistry and physics, have made possible many extraordinary and life enhancing innovations," said Ogilvie.

Ogilvie added that for science and technology transfer to flourish, governments needed not only to provide funds for research, but also to put policies in place that encourage the application of research findings for the good of the public.

ILRI is one of the 15 Future Harvest Centres of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research. Its annual lecture is named after the winner of the 1996 Nobel Prize for medicine, who is a former member of the institute's board and gave the first lecture in 1998.

As well as being former director of the Wellcome Trust, Ogilvie is also former chair of COPUS, a body formed by the Royal Society, the British Association for the Advancement of Science and the Royal Institution. Her lecture was called 'The promise of science for development and threats to its application'.

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