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African health scientists need more funding and support to overcome the barriers and deal with a changing health situation on the continent, a major international health meeting was told this week (23–26 October).

Infectious diseases, such as tuberculosis, malaria and HIV/AIDS, are expected to decline while non-communicable diseases, including cardiovascular disease, cancer and diabetes, will increase in Africa over the coming decades, the World Health Summit in Berlin, Germany, has heard.

"Africa's investment in infrastructure is inadequate, especially at a time when our continent is going through an epidemiological transition," said Olive Shisana, chief executive officer of the South African Human Sciences Research Council.

Many of these diseases can be prevented by putting scientific research and health technologies to work, said Shisana, adding that this "epidemiological transition is an opportunity for us to build capacity and to collaborate to tackle these diseases together for the benefit of the globe".

"But to have a critical mass of scientists, we essentially have to spend a lot more … in science and technology. Without that, I don't think that we will be able to collaborate and produce knowledge," she said in her keynote speech at the summit on Monday (24 October).

For African scientists to generate such research and apply new technologies, a number of barriers need to be overcome.

She emphasised the importance of building up a strong scientific workforce in Africa and a strong infrastructure, without which, many of the highly skilled scientists migrate to other countries.

"The concern that many [developing] countries have … is that they do not have sufficient resources to be able to contribute adequately in order to make a difference," said Shisana.

She also suggested that international partners should work with African scientists to set the research agenda and priorities together, share research resources and cease making grant funds on conditions that scientists from the developing world cannot meet because of poor infrastructure.

Shisana pointed out successful examples of African researchers in global collaborations. These included the study that showed that male circumcision can reduce HIV infection risk that has led to the practice being implemented throughout Africa and one on the effectiveness of antiretroviral microbicide gel.

She also called for journals to publish more research from non-English speaking scientists and for researchers to publish in accessible, open access journals.

The World Health Summit  is the annual conference of the M8 Alliance of Health Centers, Medical Universities and the National Academies, an international collaboration of academic institutions aiming to improve global health through developing science-based solutions in collaboration with political and economic decision makers. It is a high level meeting for leaders from academia, politics, industry and civil society to address key challenges in medical research, global health and health care delivery.