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African Covid-19 science ‘should focus on testing and partnerships’

Image: governortomwolf [CC BY 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons

US health expert says pandemic could help African scientists demonstrate value of science to governments

Africa’s Covid-19 research should focus on testing and on building sustainable partnerships with global partners, according to a United States global health expert.

Robert Eiss, senior advisor to Fogarty International Center director Roger Glass, said that Africa’s research response should primarily be on “high throughput rapid testing” of Covid-19 perhaps by leveraging existing infrastructure used for tuberculosis and HIV/Aids diagnostics.

The other research focus should be to integrate sequencing research with testing programmes, to better understand why the effects of Covid-19 differ on the continent compared to elsewhere in the world.

Eiss was speaking during the Africa-European Radio Astronomy Platform’s 2020 conference on 9 September.

He praised Africa’s response to the pandemic, citing prior experience on the continent to infectious disease outbreaks as a potential reason. But African health research still needs far more support, he warned.

“Pre-Covid-19 African governments were experiencing 2-5 per cent increases in GDP but this was not finding its way into R&D,” he said.

He noted that the pandemic might have a silver lining for African researchers, as it increases their local policymakers’ appreciation of the value of science. 

It could also be an opportunity for global funders to address “deficits in the structures of grants programmes” which leads to local research teams breaking down once funding runs out, he added.

“There has been no moment when demand for research has been so high [as] during this epidemic,” he said.