Ministers from Congo, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya and Sudan expressed their concern about health research in Africa at the 10th anniversary meeting of the Drugs for Neglected Diseases initiative held in Nairobi this month (4-5 June).
James Macharia, Kenya's new cabinet secretary for health, said previous funding levels were inadequate. "I am, therefore, committed to ensuring more investment in medical research and development," he added.
He said the government will now allocate more resources to medical development to seal Kenya's huge funding gap.
Mark Bor, former permanent secretary for Kenya's Ministry of Public Health and Sanitation, said the inadequate funding stems from the government's dependence on foreign aid.
Lomamy Kalema Shodu, medical advisor to the minister of health in the Democratic Republic of Congo, noted that lack of funds had impeded the country's medical research. He added that the country lacks even basic equipment to fight disease vectors like tsetse flies: not even a single tsetse fly trap exists in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
According to the Central African Republic's health minister, Ajuide Soumouk, the country has limited resources, both human and financial, to fight neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), a major problem in the Central African Republic.
"Inadequate funds and poor logistical frameworks have been major drawbacks to the fight against NTDs," he says.
Ministers pledge more funding
The ministers have, however, voiced future plans to support medical research. They all agreed to focus on funding medical research in their countries.
"I would like to have a culture of research in my state," said Musa Bashir, minister of health for Gedarif State, Sudan. "I will support health related studies and also facilitate admission of NGOs to fight endemic disease."
WHO director Margaret Chan, said the large and diversified problem of NTDs needs broad-based support on multiple fronts.
"Progress against these neglected diseases requires determination, a constant refinement of control strategies, political commitment and imagination," she told the conference.
She added that the WHO fully agrees with the need to get prices down, improve access and stimulate research and development for new treatments for diseases that disproportionately affect the poor.
Monique Wasunna, assistant director of the Kenya Medical Research Institute, told SciDev.Net that political will is crucial to realising progress on NTDs.
Africa's main NTDs are human trypanosomiasis, malaria and visceral leishmaniasis (kala-azar).
This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's Sub-Saharan Africa desk.