African scientific and political community recently identified urgent priorities which can potentially enable the continent to achieve its Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as set out by the UN. But the success of these key scientific priorities depends on investments by both the African governments and global funders.
And the African Academy of Sciences (AAS) through one of its arms, the Alliance for Accelerating Excellence in Science in Africa (AESA), together with the African Union Development Agency (AUDA-NEPAD) on Monday unveiled three key policy papers setting out scientific priorities that offer the highest return on investment. The priorities cover such important areas as genomic and precision medicine; data and bio-specimen governance; and climate change.
Through its African Science Technology and Innovation Priority Setting programme (ASP), the alliance engages Africa’s science leaders and political stakeholders to identify the priorities over a five-year period. The engagements culminated in a set of position papers published and disseminated to relevant stakeholders. The position papers are then published in the form of outcome reports, policy papers and policy briefs.
According to the AAS website, the outcome reports were published between 2019 and 2020 on a number of critical areas such as maternal, neonatal and child health (MNCH); climate change; food security and nutrition; epidemic preparedness/COVID-19; and gender and science. The reports were subsequently circulated across critical stakeholders in the continent to inform and guide continental investment decisions.
An eminent scientific advisory board formed by representatives from African regional and economic blocs, funding partners, policymakers, scientists, and African governments authenticated the policy papers released on Monday, added AAS. The priority papers are summarised as follows:
Data and Bio-specimen Governance Scientific Priority
A lot of significant research work is conducted within the African continent between African researchers and international partners. Typically, data collected by international collaborators is not analysed locally due to limited human capacity and infrastructure.
But this practice excluded and denied local professionals an opportunity to give input on final products as well as acquire training on skills to process different data. This is primarily due to the fact that many African governments either lack legal clauses on collection and usage of data sourced from their countries or have not implemented existing guidelines efficiently.
It was for this reason that in 2019 a data and bio-specimen governance (DBG) expert committee was convened. The purpose of the convention was to discuss, consult and produce a policy paper addressing governance issues relevant to Africa around the use and re-use of health research data and bio-specimens. The committee highlighted three DBG priorities that need to be urgently addressed and these include:
- Engaging funders and institutions to uphold African data and bio-specimen governance policy and
- Establishing systems for data governance and build the capacity of African data custodians.
The full papers can be accessed here
Genomics and Precision Medicine Scientific Priority
The African human genome potentially carries information crucial to unlocking novel avenues to the development of better drugs, therapies, clinical practices and policies that could impact healthcare delivery globally. However, this diversity is under-represented in the current human reference genome, which guides key decisions regarding human variation and disease and limits potential benefits to African populations.
The process for identifying the role of genomics and precision medicine in helping more Africans access tailored healthcare and delivering precision medicine for public health was implemented through the Human Heredity Health in Africa (H3Africa) task force. The task force or expert committee has generated a policy paper to engage African governments, global partners and key stakeholders.
The genomics and precision medicine scientific priority provides a framework of how existing infrastructure can be leveraged to kick start precision medicine roll out in Africa. The process of developing this framework was led by members of the H3Africa consortium. The consortium supports population-based studies that use genetic, clinical, and epidemiological tools to better understand the relationship between human genes and the environment to improve the health of African populations.
The genomics and precision medicine priorities identified include:
- African-specific knowledge base on genomics.
- Strong data infrastructure for collection, storage, synthesis & interpretation.
- Capacity strengthening for healthcare professionals.
- Advanced clinical facilities.
- Regulations, governance & ethics.
Access the full paper here
Climate Change Scientific Priority
Although Africa contributes least to global greenhouse gas emissions at only 4%, it is hardest hit by the impacts of climate change. United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) projections for 2020, suggested that between 75 and 250million people in Africa are exposed to increased water shortages.
Yields from rain-fed agriculture are probably reduced by up to 50% in some countries because of climate change. There is a paucity of peer-reviewed research outputs on climate change in Africa compared with the rest of the world. Periodic assessments of the state of the world’s climate conducted by the Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) rely on peer-reviewed data and therefore have minimal input from African scientists.
In July 2019, ASP collaborated with the United Nations University Institute for Natural Resources in Africa and through co-ordination with IPCC convened African scientists and key policy stakeholders. The aim of the gathering was to deliberate on key climate change challenges and identify priority actions.
The meeting identified the following priority areas on climate change and development in Africa:
- Building African climate research capacity needs.
- Climate science and policy interface.
- Climate change and the African Union agenda 2063.
The full paper can be found here here
The ASP programme is presently drafting outcome documents for mental health and the fourth industrial revolution, which will be published in the first quarter of this year.