African countries are at a turning point, where they have an opportunity to invest in research capacity and ‘leapfrog’ over research institutions in other parts of the world.
This was the optimistic message from Val Snewin, international activities manager for Britain’s Wellcome Trust, who was addressing a session of Forum 2012 on the topic of developing research capacity.
Snewin said that, in light of the recession in Europe and the United States, and set against positive economic growth in Africa, a new opportunity presented itself for African research capability.
“The world is shifting on its axis here,” she said. “But very few national governments are stepping up and engaging with it. We need political will, and for governments to invest in research capacity, where they can afford it.”
Two examples were Ghana and Tanzania, both of which were showing commitment to creating research and innovation.
Rene Loewensen, of EQUINET in Zimbabwe, said that a changing landscape, in which countries were being encouraged to take charge of their own health research agendas, also brought an opportunity to shift the paradigm of how research is carried out.
Previously the focus had been on building capacity in research institutions in universities, she said. Now there was a need to extend this research to a broader context.
Placing research capacity in the community and in health services would enable it to be more responsive to the needs of both the community and the country.
“It allows us to look at the real world, rather than at theoretical issues,” said Loewensen.
But this new focus on community and multidisciplinary research had also brought new challenges, such as how to keep track of quality in a rapidly changing field.
Yogan Pillay, deputy director general of the South African health department, said that policymakers were increasingly recognising the importance of research, but were now seeking an answer to “how to make it happen”.
The questions they faced were around the implementation of research results, and scaling them up to make a wide impact.
Kathryn Strachan is a freelance health and development journalist working in Johannesburg.
This blog post is part of our Forum 2012 coverage — which takes place 24–26 April 2012.