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[LUSAKA] Zambia's new minister of science has said his focus for the next five years will be to rehabilitate research infrastructure and tackle the scientific brain drain.

Brian Chituwo, who was appointed minister of science last month (9 October) in a cabinet reshuffle, has served four years as Zambia's minister of health and more recently as minister for education affairs.

He told SciDev.Net that he will develop and rehabilitate infrastructure in major institutions, and address the long standing issue of inadequate ministry funding for science and technology activities in conjunction with the ministry of finance.

Although he could not state the budget, funding allocated for science and technology in the government's fifth national plan is only ZMK83.2 billion (US$23 million) for 2006-2011 — 0.3 per cent of its overall budget (see Science in Zambian development plan for first time).

Chituwo is the fifth minister for science and technology in the last five years, replacing Judith Kapijimpanga. In 2005 the Zambian president Levy Mwanawasa sacked four science ministers in quick succession, citing poor performance.

But Chituwo is unperturbed by his new job.

"My ministry's [role] is not difficult, it is strategic, because social-economic development stands on the pillars of science and technology," says Chituwo.

Zambia has been particularly affected by the scientific brain drain leading to many institutions being understaffed.

As a way to entice researchers to stay, Chituwo pledged to improve equipment at the University of Zambia, the National Institute of Scientific and Industrial research, the University Teaching Hospital, Lusaka, and in all government technical colleges throughout the country.

As part of a number of other initiatives to solve the problem, the country has raised salaries and allowances; increased student enrolment in colleges and universities; and purchased equipment to enable scientists to work effectively.

So far the government has spent ZMK6 billion (US$1.5 million) on scientific equipment for the National Institute of Scientific and Industrial Research, and on training staff for working with sensitive material, such as genetically modified organisms (GMOs).

A laboratory for testing GMOs has just been completed in Chilanga, approximately 15 kilometres south of Lusaka.

At the official opening of parliament last week (27 October) Mwanawasa said research and development activities would be a national priority for his government.

Mwanawasa, in office since 2002, urged the private sector to come on board and commercialise results of research activities.