The Covid-19 pandemic presents Namibia with a massive hurdle to overcome due to its paucity of capacity in scientific research, investment in digital technology and artificial intelligence.
As the world is finding vaccines, testing their effectiveness promptly and scaling them up to prevention and possible cure, Namibia has been challenged to even test the suitability of the donated vaccines before rolling them out to the masses.
The pressing question is, what can be done for Namibia’s fight against Covid-19?
New Era caught up with some experts to hear their views on Namibia’s scientific research capacity, and what could be done to improve it.
Renowned researcher Asa Asa, who holds a PhD in strategic innovation, noted that Namibia is seriously challenged and openly exposed in the fight against Covid-19.
“Our dependence on South Africa and other countries from afar is profoundly a matter of huge concern. Namibia’s crisis revolves on many aspects. However, health and education crises stand out as calamitously weak,” he said.
To help improve the current state, Namibia should thus collaborate with advanced nations.
“Local scientists should be exposed to state-of-the-art labs for knowledge acquisition so that our local scientists can learn from their counterparts. Of course, it is not easy, but negotiations should start if the same nations are doing massive business in the country. In the long-term, our education system should be closely vetted to meet these world standards,” he observed.
Asa further urged the country to invest essentially in digital technology and artificial intelligence.
“Rwanda is a perfect case study to draw some lessons from. In the fight against Covid-19, Rwanda uses drones to deliver medication to patients. This prevents the further spread of Covid-19 as patients will not move around seeking medical attention in public buses and taxis”, he added.
He said people should be able to use applications (apps) to search and book for medical attention, as it is the direction the country should be moving in.
Supporting these sentiments, pro-vice-chancellor for research, innovation and development at the University of Namibia professor Anicia Peters said research and development (R&D) offers promising clues to address a wide range of socio-economic problems through the development of new products and services, or improving the existing ones.
“Research and development is very crucial in every country. However, Namibia still has a very long way to go. We do not have full-time scientists, national labs and researchers. Covid-19 has just exposed our unpreparedness because we didn’t have enough funding to even carry out the littlest tests. We highly depend on South Africa for research,” she stressed.
Among several other limitations, investment hinders the progress of scientific research in Namibia.
“It has now been 30 years of independence, but we still rely on South Africa for researchers. I believe the public and private sectors should invest in infrastructure and human resources. We can only become self-reliant if we capitalise on what we have. Give the local scientists the necessary tools and support to show that we are equally capable,” said biomedical research scientist Emmanuel Nepolo.
He suggested that the government should allocate a budget specifically for research.
“So much of what we aspire to in our society requires a strong scientific base. We absolutely have to invest in science, otherwise we will fall behind other countries over the months and years ahead,” he emphasised.
Despite some research efforts having been made within the country, the poor implementation of research findings is another pressing issue, as a result of which research findings are not clearly linked with visible outputs.
Nepolo, who is also a health professions educator at Unam, said the institution’s laboratory has made progress over the years, including being one of the laboratories to assist the government in fighting Covid-19.