Science, technology and innovation are crucial to Africa's progress and sustainable future, said the President of the Republic, Dr Ameenah Gurib-Fakim, yesterday at the launching of the third edition of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) - MERCK Africa Research Summit (MARS) at Hennessy Park Hotel in Ebène.
In her keynote address, the President underlined that Africa faces considerable challenges to the health and wellbeing of its people, and has far to go to achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, especially those relating to poverty and diseases. Dr Gurib-Fakim deplored that, though Africa is home to 15% of world population, the continent produces only 3% of Global Gross Domestic Product and carries 25% of the disease burden. She added that Africa accounts for only 2% of world research output, 1.3% of research findings and 0.1% of patents. On that score she was adamant that a greater frontal push in science, technology and innovation are key to sustaining the African rising narrative both now and in the future.
With reference to the opportunities provided by the UNESCO-MARS initiative to contribute to building research capacity in the African research community, especially among the future generation of scientists, the President viewed the summit as an essential building block in developing sustainable infrastructure to boost world class training and scientific connectivity in Africa. She added that the holding of the summit is valuable to Mauritius as it complements the national strategy to promote scientific research, empower women and youth in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, as well as it also espouses the Ministry of Health's strategy on improving health research and access to cancer care.
The necessity to prioritise investments in research and development to address some of the toughest health and development challenges was underlined by Dr Gurib-Fakim. She elaborated on the establishment of the Coalition for African Research and Innovation, an alliance of African science leaders and international funders working together to catalyse greater investments in African research with a view for African nations to take ownership and set research agendas, while enabling researchers to work equitably with global partners. "Through the commitment of scientific experts, increased investments in research and development and the power of partnerships, we can improve everyday lives of African citizens," she said.
Expressing her concerns regarding the growing incidence of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) on the continent, the President urged Africans to view the threats posed by NCDs for what they are and to mobilise resources in a manner that is proportional to the severity of the challenges. As the continent becomes more industrialised and people live longer, the President invited Africans to take advantage of accumulated experiences from industrialised countries which have been confronted to decades of increased type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular diseases and strokes, certain cancers, infertility and complications in pregnancy.
"Not only must we seize the opportunity and build our capacity to deal with these threats through the power of partnership; but we also have to extrapolate on African success stories in the technology sector where entrepreneurs have been able to take advantage of the relative lack of infrastructure to leapfrog directly to better market-based solutions," Dr Gurib-Fakim advocated.
UNESCO - Merck Africa Research Summit 2017
Participants from academia, research institutions, international funding organisations of health and medical research, representatives of Medical Councils, non-governmental organisations, emerging and established researchers, and scientists are attending the two-day summit, organised jointly by the Office of the President, the Ministry of Health and Quality of Life, UNESCO and the Merck Foundation. The event aims at bringing together African researchers to discuss, share and disseminate research data and prepare for the road ahead in the development of Africa as an international hub for research excellence and scientific innovation.
This year's scientific theme is 'The Role of Scientific Research in responding to Cancer and Vaccines Development-Two emerging challenges in Africa'. In line with UNESCO's paramount priorities, the summit is also a platform to empower gender and youth in research and to build human capacities on the future generation of African scientists through the organisation of workshops, Ministerial panels and poster sessions.