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Japan is to reward outstanding efforts to improve health in Africa with a major international prize.

The Noguchi Prize will be awarded to medical researchers or healthcare experts.

Japan's prime minister Junichiro Koizumi announced the move at a press conference on 3 May in Accra, Ghana.

He said the prize would be "no less major than the Nobel prize", which is worth about US$1.4 million.

Benjamin Njeru, secretary-general of the Kenya Biomedical Scientists Association, says he hopes the award will act as an incentive to African scientists as well as give their work due recognition.

He adds that most of the credit for research done in Africa is usually taken by those in the West who fund the work.

The award is named after Hideyo Noguchi, a pioneering Japanese bacteriologist who died after contracting yellow fever in Accra in 1928.

The first award ceremony will take place in Tokyo in 2008, during an international conference on African development.

Japan will develop the criteria and other details of the award in consultation with Ghana's president John Kufour and the chair of the African Union Commission, Alpha Oumar Konare.