No one seemingly took former health minister Bernard Haufiku seriously when he questioned the N$1 million budget of the Namibia University of Science and Technology earmarked for research. Haufiku, who was speaking in parliament at the time, bemoaned the financial commitment to research in the country.
“Research is the basis of generating knowledge and information that makes us better planners, better policymakers and better society economists,” Haufiku was quoted as saying by Namibian Sun.
Haufiku’s sentiments have been echoed throughout the African continent where calls have been made for governments to increase investments in research and development of new medicines, especially in the conduct of clinical trials.
Now fast forward to 2021 and you will agree with us that the advent of Covid-19 has strengthened the case for building the necessary capacity and a call to action to invest more in research and development in order to create a pool of talent and expertise that could transform the continent.
By the time you read this, less than 20 African countries would have received Covid-19 vaccine doses, compared to millions snapped up by the wealthy nations. To put things into context, experts believe 60% of Africa’s 1.3 billion population will need to be inoculated against coronavirus in order to achieve herd immunity on the continent. This is a tall order and there are already fears that lower-income countries may be waiting until 2023 before gaining widespread access to Covid-19 vaccines.
At the moment, the odds are heavily stacked against African countries, including Namibia, when it comes to timeously securing the necessary vaccines. The wealthy nations have been bulk buying and hoarding vaccine doses. They are sitting with excess vaccines for their citizens, as South African president Cyril Ramapahosa claimed recently.
Statistics to this effect are startling. According to data collected by Bloomberg, more than 236 million doses have been administered across 121 countries, with 95.7 million doses given in the US alone. The United Kingdom on the other hand, has administered 22 million vaccine doses as part of its inoculation programme, while China and India have rolled out jabs to about 52 and 24 million citizens, respectively, over the last couple of months.
It is a sure thing that the wealthy nations will continue to hoard vaccines much to the detriment of African countries and other poor nations. Our hope is that African leaders and governments will now see this as an opportunity to develop the much-needed capacity in order to respond to pandemics that may arise in the future.
It is refreshing to note that Namibia has, for instance, enhanced its testing capability due to the pandemic. There is no doubt that our continent has the necessary brains and talent to help our countries become self-reliant in medicine production. It is true that we can no longer have our scientific priorities determined by people far removed from the challenges facing our continent. However, Africa must come to the party instead of crying over spilled milk all the time. The time has arrived for us to prioritise research and development.