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[NEW DELHI] Collaboration between Brazil and India on health biotechnology research is being hampered by India's preference for collaborating with Western countries, an analysis suggests.

Despite India's political rhetoric on South–South collaborations, the country lags far behind Brazil and China in the number of papers co-authored with scientists from developing countries, according to a study by the publicly funded Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS) think-tank in Delhi.

This means the country is also missing out on cheaper technologies developed and available in Brazil, such as diagnostics for AIDS and leishmaniasis.

The main obstacle to India's collaboration with Brazil is "the perception that collaboration with the north is much more valuable than South–South collaboration", it said.

The paper, to be released this week, is part of a wider study by Canada's International Development Research Centre (IDRC) on South–South collaborations in medical biotechnology.

Researchers interviewed by RIS in Brazil and India talked about Indians and their research institutes having a "Western fixation". This means that many developing country collaborations started as spin-offs from studies led by the North, rather than being South-South initiatives.

"In other cases, a northern party was involved in bringing the two southern groups together on paper only, and the two groups from developing countries did not even have the chance to communicate with each other," the analysis said.

"Funding was also more accessible for collaboration with the North than the South," it continued, adding that the lack of dedicated funds has hampered India's collaboration with Brazil. For example, scarce resources limited cholera research between the Kolkata-based Bose Institute and Fiocruz in Rio de Janeiro to two joint papers.

Other problems included a lack of adequate postdoctoral fellowships for joint projects, a shortage of formal and informal research networks, language barriers, and logistical problems, such as the absence of direct flights.

As a result, India has failed to cash in on low-cost diagnostic kits and other health products developed in Brazil. Brazil's AIDS and leishmaniasis diagnostic kits cost 30–40 per cent less than Indian ones, but some Indian government departments have "shied away" from collaborations that could make them available, Sachin Chaturvedi, a senior researcher at RIS, told SciDev.Net.

"India signed 13 agreements [between 1990 and 2008] with Brazil and we pointed out several areas in which there are informal research networks which could be converted into fruitful collaborations, cholera being one of them. The departments need to take them forward," Chaturvedi added.

Sreeshan Raghavan, joint secretary of India's Department of Biotechnology, acknowledged the limited research collaboration with Brazil and other Latin American countries but did not give a reason.

Link to full analysis paper draft  [418kB]