UNESCO-Merck Africa Research Summit (UNESCO-MARS)
This Summit is a valuable opportunity for all those engaged and interested in scientific research in Africa to learn about the full spectrum of ground breaking research currently underway, and prepare for the road ahead in Africa’s development as an international hub for research excellence and scientific innovation.
The Summit will address the vital role of research in the improvement and sustainable development of population health with specific emphasis on how to translate knowledge into action - the 'know-do gap' - to improve health. It will provide a platform for dialogue on improving global cooperation on life science and health research and narrowing the disparities in health systems performance between developing and developed countries. Disparities and inequities in health remains a major development challenge in the new millennium, and malfunctioning health systems are at the heart of the problem. Countries who have the highest burden of disease are struggling with poor service delivery and infrastructure, inadequate financing, severe shortages of doctors, nurses and other trained scientific researchers, as well as a lack of basic information on health indicators. But it has also become apparent, following the recent Ebola crises in West Africa, that there is a paucity in the health research milieu with poor capacities of the scientific and health researchers to provide the most adequate and scientific solution to the problems at the local level
Current reviews show that a lack of Science, Technology and Innovation capacity has hindered the attainment of several MDGs. While this underlines the critical role of STI for the accomplishment of the MDGs, it also posits valuable lessons for the post-2015 agenda.
The work of UNESCO, particularly the International Basic Science Programme, indeed shows that the role of technology and innovation is positive and critical at each and every stage of development. It is clear on close analysis that a much greater emphasis has been put on the role of technology and scientific research in implementing the SDGs. Goal 3 of the proposed SDGs for example aims at ensuring healthy lives and promoting well-being at all ages; this can be achieved through supporting research and development of vaccines and medicines. Hence, there is a dimension of scientific research that is required to implement this goal.
There are two key areas which must be addressed, therefore. Firstly, the lack of local capacity in the life sciences to perform high-quality research on neglected health needs. Secondly, the ineffectiveness of current mechanisms for translating research into health solutions, which can be disseminated to those most in need.
However, the difficulties in applying scientific research to improve population health are particularly acute in many African countries. Disproportionate disease burden, lack of international resources dedicated to regional health needs, and a shortage of expenditure on health research are challenges which must be overcome. Creating an enabling political environment and building capacity for life sciences and health research are fundamental to improving people’s wellbeing in communities and countries across the continent.
During the 2008 Global Ministerial Forum on Research for Health in Bamako, Mali, UNESCO and the World Health Organisation (WHO) produced a declaration articulating the vital role of scientific research in health. The Bamako call to action recognises both the importance of building research capacity, and the need for regional centres of excellence in achieving this. In response, UNESCO has worked to establish two Category 2 Centres in Biotechnology in India and Nigeria, whose aims is to provide education and carry out research in biomedical engineering and tropical disease control, respectively.
UNESCO is now working with Merck, to build capacities of African researchers in life and medical sciences to support improving the situation of health systems in Africa.
With the intent of following the above mentioned recommendations and taking an active role in addressing health challenges and strengthening the role of scientific research in life sciences and health for Africa, Merck and UNESCO are organizing an annual meeting, entitled the UNESCO-Merck Africa Research Summit (UNESCO-MARS).
This summit aims to bring together researchers from across Africa to discuss the generation, sharing and dissemination of research data and to prepare for the road ahead in Africa’s development as an international hub for research excellence and scientific innovation, as has been articulated in STISA-2024.
UNESCO-MARS will be conducted on a yearly basis which will ensure significant sustainable impact on access to high quality and innovative healthcare solutions, building research capacity and sustaining innovation across Africa. The 2015 Summit will focus on the role of building capacities in the life sciences to address challenges of infectious diseases, most notably the Ebola crises.