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Saturday 22nd October 2016

Africans should find malaria vaccine

25th April 2007

Efforts to develop a malaria vaccine should be driven by Southern scientists, so that African countries are more than simply channels for Northern partners to access data in the field, Tom Egwang, director-general of Medical Biotechnology Laboratories in Kampala, Uganda, writes on SciDev.net.


Home-grown solutions are feasible, and African researchers in resource-poor countries are as competent and knowledgeable as their Northern partners, he says, noting that they publish research articles in leading journals, present findings at international conferences, read the same literature and attend the same symposia.

"So why aren't they designing malaria vaccines themselves? The stock response to this — as it seems to be to all Africa's development challenges — is a lack of funds. But putting pen to paper to design a vaccine does not cost money. It takes creativity and innovation — attributes that we on the continent surely possess."

If African governments can afford presidential jets and wars, they can afford to develop a vaccine against malaria, Egwang argues on Africa Malaria Day, April 25. Some, like Gabon, Libya and Nigeria, have oil money to pay for such research.

"Misguided funding policies have been accompanied by lopsided training policies that have created a polarised malaria research world," he says, resulting in a concentration of drug and vaccine innovators in rich Northern countries, and of field studies experts in the South.

"The problem is that this situation has almost become part of the African psyche. Indeed, waiting for a malaria vaccine from the North is symptomatic of a more serious African malaise — being comfortable to be co-pilots, rather than drivers, of development in our own countries."

Scant progress has been made on UN Millennium Development Goals, although the deadline of 2015 is fast approaching. Universities should help by partnering with industry to encourage innovation among their students.

"African scientists running R&D projects must make herculean efforts to mentor a new generation of Africans to tackle malaria vaccine R&D head-on. This also means lobbying their governments to invest in research — before the North-South divide becomes an abyss," Egwang concludes.

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