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African NGOs accused of failing to share data locally

[KIGALI] African non-governmental organisations are partly to blame for the perceived low research output from the continent, a health meeting in Kigali heard this week.

While NGOs often carry out research which generates data critical to the continent’s planning, most of the data is shared exclusively with international donors, starving local partners and policymakers of useful information, a session of the inaugural WHO Africa Health Forum was told.

“While money for research is often inadequate, hampering proper data gathering in many African countries, it’s also a fact that many NGOs collect a lot useful data that is hidden in their reports which are only shared with donors,” said Mary Amuyunzu, director and technical adviser at the Kenya-based African Institute for Health and Development.

Such data could help fill some glaring research gaps if it was properly synthesised, analysed and shared with local partners, including universities and research institutions, she added. She said the problem could be partly addressed by domesticating research and “framing local research questions” even when it was meant for an external audience.

While donors will continue to set research agendas across Africa so long as they are the main financiers,Amuyunzu added, researchers, policymakers and implementing agencies need a common platform to make use of information gathered.

The lack of adequate data, especially in the field of health, could be addressed by making use of personnel such as community-level health workers. This data could be forwarded for further analysis by highly trained professionals and academics, Joseph Babigumira, an assistant professor at the University of Washington in the United States, told a later session of the meeting.

Pontiano Kaleebu of the Uganda Virus Research Institute told the meeting that convincing African bureaucrats to release money for research is often made difficult because of their perception that research institutions receive a lot of money from external funders. This notion urgently needs to change, he said.