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Friday 25th May 2018

'Scientific apartheid' warning

21st April 2008

A leading African scientist has warned that science appears to be benefiting the rich, with too little focus on solving the problems of the poor, risking a form of 'scientific apartheid'.


Unless research and technology is better used to benefit the poor, Ismail Serageldin, director of Bibliotheca Alexandrina and former chairman of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) said the privilege gap between the haves and the have-nots will widen in the field of scientific research, and in terms of access to its results.

Speaking at the BioVision Alexandria conference in Alexandria, Egypt, Serageldin said knowledge was not enough: wisdom would be needed in the allocation of intellectual resources.

Calling for developed countries to put 5% of their research and development budgets towards addressing the problems of the poor, Serageldin said such a contribution would make a big difference, even if the research were conducted in universities in the richer northern hemisphere.

Different regions, he said, needed to address different problems, but all would require the best that science could offer.

He called for greater attention to public health problems in developing countries, citing in particular the crossover between HIV/AIDS with tuberculosis. Cholera, and emerging diseases like bird flu were also major challenges requiring priority.

He also pointed to an increasing burden of non-communicable diseases such as obesity, diabetes and tobacco-related illness.

Philanthropists like Bill Gates were now contributing most to addressing the scientific challenges of the developing world, which Serageldin called a 'sad indictment' of governments and their spending policies.

Earth Institute director Jeffrey Sachs said by video link that the scientific world needed to pursue two paths simultaneously. One 'track' would put existing technologies into practice in poorer countries, while the other would develop cutting edge technologies.

He called for "RDD&D": research, development, demonstration and diffusion of technology to those who need them most.

Serageldin also highlighted food security as a major challenge to the global scientific community, with increasing pressure from a growing population and demands for more animal feed and biofuels, as well as the effects of climate change.

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