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Empowering medical research in Africa

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research coronavirus

With estimated 1.3 billion population and huge resources including (human), Africa still lags behind development, science and technology. Without its own manufactured vaccine, Africa now depends on the World Health Organization-backed equitable vaccine distribution network COVAX facility to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

Research reports on COVID-19 released this month indicated that nearly 90 per cent of the opinion-based articles related to Africa listed authors from elsewhere. African scientists have continued to perform dismally in research on COVID-19, authoring just three percent of research on the virus, according to analyses of leading medical and global health journals. Worse, even what was published – 1,130 documents between November 2019 and August 2020 – almost 65 percent of the articles were from just three countries: South Africa, Egypt, and Nigeria.


The authors warned that by Africans not publishing their own research on COVID-19 in Africa they denied the continent the creation of locally relevant knowledge to address the pandemic. “African research groups are in an excellent position to intensify and sustain intra-continental collaboration to more accurately describe what goes on in Africa as the pandemic evolves,” they said.

Response efforts
“Based on our findings, we posit that governments should increase research resource allocations needed to build trust for academic institutions that will rapidly catalyse the contribution of African-led research in infectious diseases.”


The analyses also highlighted the low number scientific articles describing the outbreak and response efforts across the continent. Also, just four percent of scientific research published on COVID-19 is relevant to Africa. Of the total 2,196 articles on COVID-19, with 9,222 authors listed across them – reveals the two analyses, published in the online journal BMJ Global Health on March 1 – just 94 articles (4.3 percent) had content related to Africa or a specific African country; 292 (3.2 percent) of the authors were affiliated to an African organization, and while the average number of authors per article was 4.2, overall, only a paltry average of 0.13 (3.1 percent) of these authors were African.

One in five African COVD-19 papers had no African authors, and two-thirds or 66.1 percent of authors on African papers were not from Africa. These recent events rekindle the often sour debate around the historical under-representation of African scientists across the world of scientific research.


Previous studies suggest that Africans have been under-represented in medical literature related to the burden of disease on the continent, with their research sector producing less than one per cent of the world’s health research each year.


“It may well be the case that the same has happened during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said the authors of the report. With over four million confirmed cases across the continent, 105,572 deaths and 3,535,824 recoveries as of March 8, the authors of the study said the relative lack of research on Africa or authored by Africans added to the growing body of “evidence of coloniality in global health research and decision-making.”


Question of resources
In the first analysis, the study authors looked for African authors publishing research and comment on COVID-19 in Africa in the top five general medical and top five global health journals between January 1 and 30 September 2020. In articles with African content, 619 authors were listed. But only a third (210; 34 per cent) of these authors reported an affiliation to an African organization. There were an average of 6.6 authors on each article about Africa, 2.2 of whom were African.


Authors from other parts of the world made up two-thirds (66 per cent) of authors on African papers, but Africans comprised just three per cent of authors on non-African papers. One in five (19) African COVID-19 papers listed no African authors. Some 39 (41.5 per cent) of these articles had an African first author, while 18 19 percent) had an African last author.


African authors occupied both of these prime authorship positions in 13 articles (14 percent), compared with 60 (three per cent) instances of Africans occupying prime authorship positions for content that wasn’t about Africa. It is unsurprising that high income countries have produced most COVID-19 research, given their resources, but they are nevertheless over-represented in research about Africa, added the authors.

Beyond all the arguments raised above, several interviews and discussions on health research and specifically on COVID-19 in Africa show there are lot of deficiencies – ranging from poor health policies through inadequate funding of health infrastructure to training and research – that have characterized the health sector in Africa.

It is therefore necessary to work towards the empowerment of wealth creation endeavors, adopt a system approach and outline how to tackle questions of the largely weak health as fast as possible. The African Union (AU), all African Governments, Africa Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC), Medical Training institutions and related research centers should together cooperate in creating the environment conducive for the evolution of competitive healthcare systems and its related research through prioritization in Africa.

MD Africa Editor Kester Kenn Klomegah is an independent researcher and writer on African affairs in the EurAsian region and former Soviet republics. He wrote previously for African Press Agency, African Executive and Inter Press Service. Earlier, he had worked for The Moscow Times, a reputable English newspaper. Klomegah taught part-time at the Moscow Institute of Modern Journalism. He studied international journalism and mass communication, and later spent a year at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. He co-authored a book “AIDS/HIV and Men: Taking Risk or Taking Responsibility” published by the London-based Panos Institute. In 2004 and again in 2009, he won the Golden Word Prize for a series of analytical articles on Russia's economic cooperation with African countries.

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Africa

Scaling Up Development Could Help Southern African leaders to Defeat Frequent Miltant Attacks

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Terrorism

Leaders of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) are now considering, without foreign interference, tackling frequent insurgency devastating regional development, causing havoc to human habitation and threatening security in southern Africa. This collective decision came out after the Extraordinary Double Troika meeting on 8th April in Maputo, Mozambique.

The violence unleashed more than three years ago in Cabo Delgado province took a new escalation on March 24 when armed groups attacked the town of Palma. The attacks caused dozens of deaths and forced thousands of Palma residents to flee, worsening a humanitarian crisis that has affected some 700,000 people in the province, according several reports.

Many international organizations and foreign countries have responded with humanitarian support and with financial aid aimed at alleviating situation, specifically in Mozambique and generally in southern Africa.

For example, the European Union (EU) pledged to send almost €7.9 million in response to the humanitarian crisis caused by terrorism in northern Mozambique, part of a package totaling €24.5 million for the entire southern Africa and Indian Ocean region. EU humanitarian aid to Mozambique “seeks to provide a response to the humanitarian consequences of the conflict in northern Mozambique, where €7.86 million of EU funding will be directed,” a statement from the European Commission details.

Beside horrific attacks, drought is also currently affecting Angola, Eswatini, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe. For instance, the EU will provide assistance to address a severe food and nutrition crisis in Madagascar. A further €6.00 million for helping children across the whole region gain access to education, and €8.00 million to improve the region’s disaster preparedness.

Now Southern African leaders are looking at pulling their resources together to improve the deteriorating security situation, supporting vulnerable displaced and affected people with shelter, food, protection and access to healthcare, especially in northern Mozambique’s Cabo Delgado province, and further widely in southern Africa.

As a first step, SADC has called for cooperation in cross-border surveillance as essential to stem the flow of foreign fighters fomenting terrorism in Cabo Delgado, and further warning the spread of violence throughout southern Africa. Among other measures, SADC suggested that southern African police and judicial systems must consistently work to combat trafficking and money laundering that funds terrorism.

Despite these collective measures, there are still a few more questions as to whether SADC could, in practical terms, control frequent violent extremist attacks using available resources in the southern Africa.

SADC, among others, mandates for enforcing collective security in the region. While the presidents of Botswana, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Tanzania and Zimbabwe have called for “an immediate technical deployment” to Mozambique ahead of another high-level meeting at the end of April, Mozambique has so far been unreceptive, according reports.

There have been various suggestions from experts. “What we have here is a human rights and humanitarian crisis that has left hundreds of thousands displaced, insecure and unable to return to their homes because of the attacks that have been ongoing,” said Dewa Mavhinga, the Southern Africa director for Human Rights Watch. “So, the lack of security then spills over to affect everything else, including in terms of stability and economic programs that might be taking place in Cabo Delgado.

Historian Yussuf Adam, a retired professor at Maputo’s Eduardo Mondlane University, told VOA the problems dated back way beyond the start of the insurgency in 2017. He attributed to sharp disparity in development in the region.

He believes that Mozambique’s government, most importantly, has to tackle systemic poverty and inequality, in addition to resorting to a military solution. “There is no military solution. People have to be heard, and things have to be negotiated, and also people’s right to land,” he said. “People have to benefit from whatever it is will come out, is coming out, from this mining, oil, petrol and gas operations. That’s something which has to be seen and done.”

Mavhinga says, the government needs to take responsibility for its own policy failures. While militants have committed grievous acts – including rapes and beheadings – rights groups have also documented abuses by Mozambican security forces, including torture and extrajudicial killings.

South African lawyer and scholar Andre Thomashausen has also indicated that the Southern African Development Community (SADC) has its own internal differences. He anticipated that this SADC summit would not be able to take concrete measures, due to the division of opinions that exists within SADC, the lack of means and manpower resources could obstruct any positive results.

Thomashausen, however, said that the previous meeting did not express any solidarity, intervention and appeal to the African Union, regional and international community, explained further that SADC clearly indicated it prefers to deal with the crisis at the regional and without foreign interference. Therefore, the countries of the southern region “continue to bet on their own initiative, on their own commitment from region.”

The final communiqué from the summit condemned the terrorist attacks “in the strongest terms” and declared that “such heinous attacks cannot be allowed to continue without a proportionate regional response” but it did not suggest what such a regional response might consist of.

It further expressed “SADC’s full solidarity with the government and people of Mozambique” and reaffirmed “SADC’s continued commitment to contribute towards the efforts to bring about lasting peace and security, as well as reconciliation and development in the Republic of Mozambique.”

The summit ordered “an immediate technical deployment” to Mozambique, and the convening of an Extraordinary Meeting of the Ministerial Committee of the Organ by 28 April 2021 that will report to the Extraordinary Organ Troika summit on 29 April 2021.

SADC, an organization of 16 member states established in 1980, has as its mission to promote sustainable and equitable economic growth and socio-economic development through efficient, productive systems, deeper cooperation and integration, good governance and durable peace and security; so that the region emerges as a competitive and effective player in international relations and the world economy.

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Africa

SADC Summit Ends With Promises of More Meetings

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The Southern African Development Community (SADC) held an Extraordinary Double Troika meeting on 8th April in Maputo to deliberate on measures on addressing terrorism and its related impact on the current development specifically in the Mozambique and generally in southern Africa. The Cabo Delgado crisis started in 2017 with insurgents taking control of parts of northern Mozambique.

One of the two troikas consists of the current, incoming and outgoing chairs of SADC (namely Mozambique, Malawi and Tanzania), while the second is formed by the current, incoming and outgoing chairs of the SADC organ for politics, defence and security cooperation (Botswana, South Africa and Zimbabwe).

South African president Cyril Ramaphosa and the ministers of international relations, defence and state security attended the meeting. It was also attended by Mozambique, Botswana, Malawi Zimbabwe and Tanzania.

The summit was called in the wake of the terrorist attack of 24 March against the town of Palma in the northern Mozambican province of Cabo Delgado, but the leaders did not pledge any immediate practical support for Mozambique.

SADC Troika heads however said the acts of terrorism perpetrated against innocent civilians in Cabo Delgado, Mozambique, could not be allowed to continue without a proportionate regional response and reported that 12 decapitated bodies have been found behind a hotel in the region.

Mozambican President Filipe Nyusi has called for cooperation in cross-border surveillance as essential to stem the flow of foreign fighters fomenting terrorism in Cabo Delgado, warning of the spread of violence throughout Southern Africa.

Among the measures that the SADC countries should implement to combat terrorism is strengthening border control between Southern African countries, he said, and further added that Southern African police and judicial systems must consistently work to combat trafficking and money laundering that funds terrorism.

Nyusi stressed that the organization should implement practical acts to combat this scourge of terrorism to prevent its expansion and destabilization of the region, and warned of the risk that the actions of armed groups with a jihadist connotation could hinder regional integration.

According official reports, SADC fends off United States / European Union anti-terror intervention in Cabo Delgado. It further said no to another Mali / Somalia / Libya / Syria disaster on the African continent, adding that the global Anti-Terror lobbies are frustrated.

Deeply concerned about the continued terrorist attacks in Cabo Delgado, especially for the lives and welfare of the residents who continue to suffer from the atrocious, brutal and indiscriminate assaults, the leaders decided at their meeting to deploy a technical mission to Mozambique. It’s not clear what action the region will take but the deployed technical mission will report back to heads of state by 29 April.

The final communiqué from the summit condemned the terrorist attacks “in the strongest terms” and declared that “such heinous attacks cannot be allowed to continue without a proportionate regional response” but it did not suggest what such a regional response might consist of.

The Summit expressed “SADC’s full solidarity with the government and people of Mozambique” and reaffirmed “SADC’s continued commitment to contribute towards the efforts to bring about lasting peace and security, as well as reconciliation and development in the Republic of Mozambique.”

The summit ordered “an immediate technical deployment” to Mozambique, and the convening of an Extraordinary Meeting of the Ministerial Committee of the Organ by 28 April 2021 that will report to the Extraordinary Organ Troika summit on 29 April 2021.

The extremely brief communiqué mentioned no other specific measures.

The violence unleashed more than three years ago in Cabo Delgado province took a new escalation about a fortnight ago when armed groups attacked the town of Palma, which is about six kilometres from the multi-million dollar natural gas, according to United Nations data.

The attacks caused dozens of deaths and forced thousands of Palma residents to flee, worsening a humanitarian crisis that has affected some 700,000 people in the province since the conflicts data. Several countries have offered Maputo military support on the ground to combat these insurgents, but so far there has been no openness, although reports and testimonies are pointing to security companies and mercenaries in the area.

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Africa

African agriculture is ready for a digital revolution

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Authors: Akinwumi Adesina and Patrick Verkooijen*

After a dark 2020, a new year has brought new hope. In Africa, where up to 40 million more people were driven into extreme poverty and the continent experienced its first recession in 25 years, a brighter future beckons as the economy is forecast to return to growth this year.

Africa now has an opportunity to reset its economic compass. To build back not just better, but greener. Particularly as the next crisis—climate change—is already upon us.

Africa’s food systems must be made more resilient to future shocks such as floods, droughts, and disease. Urgent and sustainable increases in food production are needed to reduce reliance on food imports and reduce poverty, and this is where digital services come into play.

With mobile phone ownership in Sub-Saharan Africa alone expected to reach half a billion this year, digital services offered via text messaging can reach even the most remote village. And at least one-fifth of these phones also have smart features, meaning they can connect to the internet.

We can already see how digital services drive prosperity locally and nationally. In Uganda, SMS services that promote market price awareness have lifted the price farmers receive for bananas by 36 percent, beans by 16.5 percent, maize by 17 percent, and coffee by 19 percent. In Ghana, services that cut out the middleman have lifted the price for maize by 10 percent and groundnuts by 7 percent.

But digital services don’t just raise farmgate prices, they are the gateway to farm loans, crop insurance, and greater economic security, which in turn enables farmers to increase their resilience to climate change—by experimenting with new, drought-resistant crops, for example, or innovative farming methods.

Text messages with weather reports help farmers make better decisions about when and what to plant, and when to harvest.

In Niger, a phone-based education program has improved crop diversity, with more farmers likely to grow the cash crop okra, while an advisory service in Ethiopia helped increase wheat production from one ton to three tons per hectare.

The data footprints phone users create can also be analyzed to help assess risk when it comes to offering loans, making credit cheaper and more accessible.

Phones and digital services also speed up the spread of information through social networks, helping farmers learn about new drought-resistant crops or services that can increase productivity. Free-to-use mobile phone-based app WeFarm, for example, has already helped more than 2.4 million farmers find certified suppliers of quality seeds at fair prices. They can also connect farmers to internet-based services.

Examples of digital innovation abound, sometimes across borders. In Ghana, Kenya, and Nigeria, equipment-sharing platform Hello Tractor is helping farmers rent machinery by the day or even hour, while in Ethiopia, AfriScout, run by the non-government organization Project Concern International with the World Food Programme and the Ministry for Agriculture, provides satellite images of water supplies and crops every 10 days so problems can be spotted quickly to aid remedial action.

Transforming food systems digitally has demonstrably excellent results: the African Development Bank, which has allocated over half of its climate financing to adaptation since 2019, has already helped 19 million farmers in 27 countries to lift yields by an average 60 percent through applying digital technology, for example.

This is why the Global Center on Adaptation and the African Development Bank have launched the Africa Adaptation Acceleration Program (AAAP) to mobilize $25 billion to scale up and accelerate innovative climate-change adaptation across Africa.

Once developed, the digital nature of these services often makes such projects easy to replicate elsewhere and scale, even across large rural areas with little existing infrastructure.

Further, adaptation projects are proven to be highly cost-effective, often delivering value many times the original investment and so helping African economies grow faster and create many more much-needed jobs.

This makes it imperative that the global resolve to rebuild economies in the wake of Covid-19 is harnessed in the most effective way. We must not simply replicate the mistakes of the past. We must build back stronger, with a more resilient and climate-smart focus.

Funding and promoting disruptive business models in which digital technologies are embedded to increase productivity without using more land or more water will create a triple win: increased production, a more resilient climate and more empowered farmers.

We have the means and the technical capability to put Africa well on the way to achieving food self-sufficiency and greater climate resilience. In doing so, we can help millions move out of food poverty. We must not squander this opportunity to create truly historic and lasting change.

AfDB

*Patrick Verkooijen is CEO of the Global Center on Adaptation.

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