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The Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) has increased science support for its member countries by giving higher status and fundraising capabilities to its science committee.

Its Standing Committee on Scientific and Technological Cooperation (COMSTECH) has been re-designated as a specialist organ of the OIC with new autonomy over its finances and administration, providing more freedom for its research programs.

The changes were announced at the 13th General Assembly of COMSTECH, held last week (1–3 April) in Islamabad, Pakistan. At the meeting, OIC member countries were invited to rejoin the committee.

Every country that joins will be obliged to donate a proportion of its gross domestic product (GDP) annually to COMSTECH programmes. Countries with larger contributions will receive higher priority and a larger stake in any commercial gains from the programme.

COMSTECH currently runs on voluntary contributions from OIC member states. Only 13 out of 57 Muslim countries collectively donated US$2.59 million to COMSTECH in the last biennium (2006–2007), with US$2 million from Pakistan.

Jordan, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia have signed up so far. Pakistan also announced a one-off donation of US$7.2 million in addition to its regular, US$1 million annual contribution. According to Anwar Nasim, science advisor at COMSTECH, Jordan and Saudi Arabia will confirm their contributions in a few weeks after consultation with their ministries.

"Since 1996, we have been trying to convince the leadership of Muslim countries of the socioeconomic importance of science and technology, and the role of COMSTECH in this," Atta-ur-Rahman, COMSTECH coordinator general, told SciDev.Net.

At the assembly, Atta-ur-Rahman announced plans to launch new programmes on information technology, agricultural and health biotechnology, bio-saline agriculture (the use of microorganisms and salt-tolerant plants to help cultivate salt-rich lands), drug development and science and technology policymaking. 

"Most Muslim countries don't have national science policies based on their local needs and available resources. In this regard, COMSTECH is certainly going to help them," says Atta-ur-Rahman.

COMSTECH was created by the OIC in 1981 to promote cooperation among OIC member states in science and technology. It provides human and material resources to further the scientific and technological capabilities of Muslim countries, including inter-library networks and grants for young scholars.