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Africa’s top science and development stories of 2014
  • Africa’s top science and development stories of 2014

Copyright: Fernando Moleres / Panos

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  • A review of stories published in 2014 shows the region had issues and solutions

  • In addition to Ebola, there were other prominent health stories such as measles

  • Other key topics included energy, gender, R&D funding, ICT and agriculture

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Ebola, energy, gender and agriculture topped articles published by SciDev.Net Sub-Saharan Africa region in 2014. 
 
With Ebola dominating news on Africa last year, one could be forgiven to think that other topics got lesser attention. But a review of stories we published in 2014 shows the continent, in addition to Ebola stories, had plenty to offer readers of articles on science and technology for development. In particular, many readers became active on the region’s Facebook page and ‘liked’ some of the top stories.  

Health, not just Ebola

Many healthcare challenges, not only just Ebola, became prominent last year. There was a story that highlighted a report about the continent’s unlikelihood of achieving its goal of eliminating measles by 2020. A WHO official cited countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia and Nigeria — where many children with the disease live — to do more to increase vaccination rates.

“A review of stories we published in 2014 shows the continent, in addition to Ebola stories, had plenty to offer readers of articles on science and technology for development.”

Bernard Appiah


HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis were not left out in 2014. Early in the year, we published a story that indicated that intermittent screening and treatment of malaria in schools did not have benefits in low- to-moderate malaria transmission settings in part due to reinfection from untreated cases in communities. Another story showed that there were gaps in implementing recommendations for treating tuberculosis in Africa, such as continued use of outmoded medicines.

And how about a story on an annulled anti-gay law in Uganda that is still having a rippling effect on conducting HIV research in that country? Or the fact that regulatory bottlenecks could make it difficult for African women to access combination tools to fight HIV/AIDS?

But not all health news painted gloomy future of Africa. The use of information and communication technology (ICT) to promote healthcare on the continent received a major boost when a global mHealth giant decided to relocate its head office to South Africa.

Two mHealth projects to improve mental health also won grants. Mobile app to help locate Ebola cases, another app to screen hearing loss in children, and healthcare workers’ strategy of using a buddy system to treat patients with Ebola received attention too.

A story about a project that aims to help blind students in Kenya visualise data by using computer-aided audio recordings was ‘liked’ by more than 2,000 ‘friends’ of SciDev.Net Sub-Saharan Africa’s Facebook page — the highest figure for any particular article we published in 2014.

Calling for home-grown support

Stories about international donors funding major R&D projects, including clinical trials, maternal health, agriculture and  radio astronomy, got readers’ attention. And while these seemed good news for the continent, a story we published later in the year showed donors are driving Africa’s health R&D.

“Indeed, the year 2014 demonstrated that despite the challenges of Ebola, there are other issues Africa has to address and other good solutions that should be promoted across the continent to aid development.”

Bernard Appiah


A group of ministers also called for Africa-led research. Experts argued that African governments should do more to fund R&D, noting that had they made enough progress in fighting neglected diseases such as Ebola, perhaps the virus could not have been so devastating to West Africa.

A story based on a World Bank report showed that Sub-Sahara Africa’s research output in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields doubled, although still low, for the period 2003 to 2012. But the story added that Africa should build more research capacity in STEM, and called for both governments and donor to increase funding to boost R&D.
 
Reforming Africa’s energy sector

News on Africa’s energy sector indicated a need for reform. For example, delegates at the 2nd High Level Meeting of the Africa-EU Partnership called for the continent to reform the energy sector if Africa is to achieve her development goals. Among the reforms cited were the goals need to provide sustainable energy services such as generating more energy from wind and the sun, and tripling other sources of renewable energy.

 Uganda appeared to have taken a major step to providing renewable energy as the country announced that it hopes to increase renewable energy access to 61 per cent.

The role of journalists and gender in boosting renewable energy access was not left out too. Journalists in East Africa attended a workshop in Rwanda on energy reporting and became enlightened that good energy stories should have certain angles such as energy policy, investment or quality.

A story from 2nd High Level Meeting of the Africa-EU Partnership also revealed a need to consider gender in addressing challenges that face the continent’s energy sector. Experts called for stakeholders to create energy policies that bolster women’s economic capacity to eliminate ‘feminised’ poverty.

Two women ‘solar engineers’ from Cameroon, with middle-school leaving certificates, through a grant from the United Nations Development Programme, went to Barefoot College in India, and were trained in solar electrification for six months. Upon their return, they began to light their village by mounting solar panels for homes.

Gender in other sectors

More than just renewable energy, gender featured in some stories we published in 2014.  In agriculture, there were calls such as a need for more women scientists and providing key roles in R&D to boost food production, as identified in a report that showed the domination of men in agricultural research.

Our story that female-headed households are likely to suffer from food insecurity also called for policymakers to facilitate easy access to information, market outlets and credits for groups of smallholder farmers.

In ICT, the power of radio to help women tackle challenges in Uganda was highlighted. Also, stakeholders called for empowerment of girls in ICT education. Women also received a major boost through funding schemes to empower them in ICT and to encourage them to get PhDs.
 
Other focus on agriculture 

Beyond the influence of women in agriculture, there were other agricultural stories that many readers ‘liked’ on Facebook. These included making agriculture attractive to the youth, a new laboratory that has been launched in East Africa to protect bees  and a technology for drying fish in Uganda that aims to improve food security.

Experts also selected high-yielding, drought-tolerant rice varieties for African farmers. 

Indeed, the year 2014 demonstrated that despite the challenges of Ebola, there are other issues Africa has to address and other good solutions that should be promoted across the continent to aid development.
 
Bernard Appiah is the subeditor of SciDev.Net’s Sub-Saharan Africa English edition.
 
This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's Sub-Saharan Africa desk.
 
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