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[ANTANANARIVO] Malagasy science is set to receive a boost with the announcement of a US$1.5 million project to improve developing country laboratories.

The Merieux Foundation project is a collaboration between research centres in Cameroon, France, Haiti, Madagascar and Mali. Funding, yet to be allocated, will be split between the five countries.

For Madagascar, whose Rodolphe Merieux Laboratory at the University of Antananarivo is a partner in the project, the grant comes as major uncertainties remain over the direction of Malagasy science following the ousting of former president Marc Ravalomanana in a military coup in March 2009 (see Africa Anlaysis: Where next for Malagasy science?).

Before the coup, Malagasy science already faced many challenges, with research and development spending below the African average of 0.3 per cent of gross domestic product and scientists' salaries so low that they were forced to take second jobs.

The project's success depends on good coordination between the five institutes, the establishment of research policies, the mobilisation of external funders, and improving the communication and use of results in the countries involved, said a spokesperson for the foundation.

Arsène Ratsimbasoa, an epidemiologist at the University of Antananarivo, told SciDev.Net that the funding is sufficient to address current priorities. But he added that while Malagasy researchers are skilful, their ability to apply those skills is lacking because of an absence of coordination at a national level.

"Individual resourcefulness is the rule due to the lack of coordination," he said.

Ratsimbasoa also said that a clear research policy does not exist in the country. The lack of such a policy has caused concern.

The Rodolphe Merieux Laboratory hopes to begin funded activities, which are under discussion, in April this year.