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[ARUSHA, Tanzania] A new organisation to promote health research in Africa and strengthen the continent's voice in setting and implementing the global research agenda was launched today.

The initiative — known as the African Health Research Forum — seeks to develop leadership in health researchers and health institutions in Africa. It also aims to improve the communication of health research findings to the public, by creating websites and scientific journals, and by training science communicators.

Tanzania's minister for health, Anna Abdalla, who officially launched the Forum at the annual conference of the Geneva-based Global Forum for Health Research in Arusha, Tanzania, said that Africa should claim ownership of health research programmes being undertaken in the continent.

"African governments should support African health research," she said. "They must show support and commitment. We have been eating other people's research findings."

The Forum — to be headed by Raphael Owor, president of the Uganda National Health Research Forum — will also promote collaborations with research bodies from the North, as well as training researchers, institutions and the public in research ethics.

Mohammed Said Abdullah, treasurer of the National Health Research and Development Centre of Kenya and a key player in creating the Forum, said the initiative would empower African health researchers to challenge the North on issues such as who owns research. "International codes of research ethics and rules will be designed to enhance understanding of such collaboration," he said.

According to Abdullah, the initiative will be formally presented to Africa's health ministers at a meeting in Harare, Zimbabwe, in March. "[The ministers] will be asked to lobby the Africa Union to set up a health research desk in its administrative structure," he said. "We want governments in this continent to put a certain amount of money to health research through the African Union".

The Forum's spirit stems from the findings of a report published in 1990 by the Commission on Health Research for Development, which revealed that the bulk of health research resources do not benefit poor countries, which shoulder the heaviest disease burden in the world.

The report, Health Research: Essential Link to Equity in Development, observed that while 80 per cent of the global population living in developing countries shouldered 95 per cent of the global burden of disease, only 5 per cent of global investment in health research was committed to health problems in developing countries.

"Current statistics indicate that out of the annual global health research budget estimated as US$70 billion, less than 10 per cent goes to countries which shoulder 90 per cent of the global disease burden," said Ali Mohammed Shein, Tanzania's Vice-President, at the official opening of the conference yesterday (November 12).

Hailing the creation of the Forum, Shein said that research efforts would have more impact if nations and regional groupings could create better functional networks and other mechanisms for concerted action. "The creation of these mechanisms will go a long way in ensuring that the voice of individual countries and regional entities is heard loud and clear at the global level and allowed to take part in shaping the global health research agenda," he said.

In the absence of such a forum, Africa would find it difficult to influence the global health research agenda, to define and defend African health research priorities and to fight for an equitable share of the global resources, he said.

Richard Feachem, executive director of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis & Malaria, appealed to African governments to give more support to health research. "[The African Health Research Forum] is an excellent idea to bring together African health researchers into a new grouping to set agenda for Africa health research — I support it," he said. "Leadership in health research must come from within Africa. This Forum is the key to agenda setting and seizing the agenda."

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