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A scientist at the Kenya Medical Research Institute
Africa needs to set realistic priorities in health research, and also to develop its own capacities and alternative ways for solving its health problems, according to Ali Mohamed Shein, Vice-President of Tanzania.

Addressing a meeting of 700 health experts, policy-makers and donor agencies from about 85 countries, Shein said that African countries needed to remind themselves that it was their "own duty and responsibility” to lead the fight against diseases which were weighing them down.

At the same time, he added, such nations should also “demand our fair share of the global resources” to counteract a vicious cycle of poor health, poor productivity and poverty.

“Only with the substantial assistance of the rich industrial countries and their own stronger commitment and greater scientific capacity to help themselves will the African peoples be able to break out of the trap,“ said Shein.

Shein was speaking in Arusha, Tanzania, on the opening day of the annual meeting of the Geneva-based Global Forum for Health Research.

He urged researchers in Africa “to focus on the deadliest diseases, namely malaria, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS and other main killers and health-debilitating diseases for affordable, sustainable and effective health outcomes.”

Richard Feachem, chair of the Global Forum’s Foundation Council, said that the forum was committed to correcting the so-called ‘10/90 gap’ — the fact that less than 10 per cent of the world’s medical research funding goes to countries which shoulder 90 per cent of the global disease burden.

“We exist to help health researchers fight the deficit in health research and health research capacity, where currently the majority of the money goes to the health priorities of a small wealthy minority,” said Feachem.

“I hope that in the coming years the 10/90 gap will become a 20/90 gap, then a 30/90 gap and a 40/90 gap, and eventually it will be 90/90. That’s what it ought to be!”

Despite widespread reports of the deficiencies in health care and biomedical research in Africa, a number of participants told success stories from different parts of the continent.

Mohammed Said Abdullah, for example, treasurer of the National Health Research and Development Centre of Kenya, pointed out that Kenya has recently created a ministry of research, and has built seven large research institutes.

He reported that the Kenyan Medical Research Institute had grown from a small department with three research officers to the current workforce of 256 full-time research scientists. “These researchers are producing more than 150 international peer-reviewed publications every year,” said Abdullah.

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Photo credit: WHO\TDR\Stone

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