A regional answer?

Equatorial Guinea is a lonely country in Africa.

Being the only Spanish-speaking nation on the continent certainly makes it difficult for regular day-to-day communication with their French- and English-speaking neighbours, much less collaborate on scientific projects or publish research results in regional journals.

They are a rather extreme example of the problem faced by non-English speaking African countries.

As mentioned by the representative from Chad at the morning ministerial discussion on the second day of Bamako 2008, Francophone scientists have trouble getting their results published as French journals are few and far between, and even French scientists are publishing in English!

He and a few other representatives made the point that it may not necessarily be that research is not being done, but that it is not getting published for various reasons.

However, achieving a critical mass of researchers and trying to justify why health should be given a higher priority as compared to say, food security, to quote the example from Angola, were also among the concerns of the poorer countries at the meeting.

A strong suggestion that seemed quite practicable was the creation of regional networks of scientists or centres of excellence for research. This would enable resource-poor countries to pool expertise and facilities, as well as concentrate funding.

An interesting point brought up by the representative from Morocco was that scientists who are trained abroad sometimes face “passive resistance” from their team, despite having all the resources and political support available. She said that this was due to the view that these scientists were “elite” or because they do things differently.

She opined that this barrier could be overcome by training scientists locally, possibly at the regional centres of excellence mentioned above.

Consolidation was also the call by Norway and the United Kingdom. The Norwegian representative frankly said that the world needed less governing bodies and more action. He suggested that it might be better for some of the many coordinating health bodies to merge to avoid overlapping efforts and increasing efficiency.

It certainly makes sense, but when one imagines the amount of time needed to review and restructure all the operations of each organisation, and worse, the policy paralysis that will result during that time, it doesn’t seem a very practical move in the short-term.

Shiow Chin Tan, SciDev.Net

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