Kenya embraces a research programme to drive R&D

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Copyright: Brian Sokol/IDRC / Panos

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  • With US$2 million for five years, the project is to spur biotech and health R&D
  • The programme could help the country address health challenges, says an official
  • An expert recommends a need to focus on low-cost and scalable technologies

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[NAIROBI] Kenya has embraced the University Research Chairs (URC) programme, a model which has already been adopted by countries such as Canada and South Africa.
Under the URC programme, the government of Kenya’s National Commission for Science, Technology and Innovation (NACOSTI) is partnering with Canada’s International Development and Research Centre (IDRC) to fund research programmes.

“We have identified seven priority areas which will be rolled out in the coming ten years, starting this year with health systems and biotechnology research.”


Jasper Rugut, Kenya, National Commission for Science, Technology and Innovation (NACOSTI)

“We have identified seven priority areas which will be rolled out in the coming ten years, starting this year with health systems and biotechnology research,” said Jasper Rugut, NACOSTI CEO, at the launch of the programme in Kenya last month (31 March).
To support the URC programme in the two thematic areas of research, NACOSTI and IDRC are each contributing US$1 million for a period of five years. Moi University has been appointed to lead research on health systems.
“We expect that during the period of research, innovative maternal, childcare and health delivery solutions will be produced,” added Rugut.
Unlike in other forms of research, URC mainly focuses on innovation and production of new technologies, with an emphasis on uptake to solve pressing social-economic problems by closely involving government and industry actors, according to Rugut. It also seeks to strengthen the role of universities in public innovation systems.
Rugut noted that in the URC programme, priority areas in a country’s development needs are identified and research funded to attain excellence in research under the leadership of a research chair, usually an eminent scholar in a particular field.
Fabian Esamai, principal of Moi University’s college of health sciences, will chair the health systems research in Kenya’s URC programme.
According to Collette Suda, the principal secretary in Kenya’s ministry of education, science and technology, the URC programme will go a long way in boosting research on the health challenges facing the country.
“The problem of inadequate funding has continued hindering production of cutting edge research in various fields, including health, but with this kind of support, we believe critical steps will be made in finding solutions to our health challenges,” she told a gathering of distinguished scientists, researchers and policymakers at the launch.
Simon Carter, IDRC director for Sub-Saharan Africa, said research should focus on generating low-cost and scalable technologies, with research excellence the driving force.
“We expect that under the URC, the fresh perspectives in solving pressing challenges including child mortality will be realised and that all research undertaken will be demand-driven,” Carter added.

This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's Sub-Saharan Africa desk.