• July 13th, 2020

Scant research funding in spotlight  … how the Covid-19 crisis is stalling science

A University of Namibia’s associate professor has decried the meagre public funding of research activities, saying the scant allocation of resources is negatively affecting institutions of higher learning to contribute meaningfully to the fight against Covid-19. 

Marius Hedimbi, who is a microbiologist, acknowledged there is a serious lack of research funding in the country. “We still rely heavily on South Africa for our advanced research and testing. Another problem is that for community diseases such as Covid-19, they are classified as a national disaster, which limits the access to samples, by researchers who want to conduct research,” he said in an interview with New Era. “This means that universities, such as Unam, have limited (if any) access to samples on which to conduct research and analysis. Approval to get such samples is also likely to take long and samples need to be handled in specialised facilities, which might not be available or inadequate.

However, with increased government and private sector funding, institutions of higher learning in Namibia will be in a position to contribute meaningfully to government’s efforts in combatting emerging diseases such as Covid-19.” Medical microbiology deals with the study of microorganisms (such as viruses, bacteria and parasites) that causes diseases, especially in humans and animals. Microbiologists help with understanding the reproduction of the microorganism and how they are transmitted between hosts. Furthermore, microbiologists advise public health sectors on measures to be taken to limit the spread of microorganisms in the community. They are also involved in clinical trials of potential vaccines. 

The Covid-19 outbreak has snowballed into a global pandemic with over nine million cases recorded worldwide thus far, while Namibia has 63 confirmed cases. “Firstly, when Covid-19 emerged in China, people thought it was just another seasonal flu and it was expected to be self-limiting. Secondly, nobody expected it to spread to the rest of the world. Thirdly, nobody expected the pandemic to last this long. The trend in outbreak of infectious diseases (such as Ebola, SARS, MERS) is that they start to self-limit after some time. However, that is not the case with Covid-19, the infection appears to be increasing daily. The increase in air travel between nations also made the spread of Covid-19 so hard to control and that’s why almost every country is affected,” he added. There is a growing fear that there would be a spike in new infections because of the winter season. “At this stage, it has not been proven scientifically that cold weather contributes to the spread of Covid-19 in the community, but there is strong reason to believe there is correlation between cold weather and the spread on Covid-19,” he said. “I think the most important worry is the public fear that will arise during the cold season. Winter causes an increase in general flu and cold-related symptoms such as cough. Since these symptoms are so closely related to those of Covid-19, you can imagine the negative profiling one will receive for having flu or cough at this time. Anybody with cough or flu will be an automatic suspect for Covid-19. It is no longer safe to have cough or flu during this period. For me, that panic in our community due to someone having flu or cough should not be ignored and the community need to be educated not to make up their own conclusions merely based on simple observations of someone who have flu and cough.” Born and raised in Endola in the Ohangwena region, Hedimbi holds a Bachelor of Science, majoring in Chemistry and Biology, Master of Science degree in Applied Microbiology and a PhD in Medical Microbiology. He has also been lecturing Medical Microbiology to medical students at Unam’s School of Medicine. In 2016, he became the director of the centre for postgraduate studies at Unam. 
In 2018, he became one of the youngest associate professors at Unam aged 34. Tomorrow, in collaboration with Radical Books, Hedimbi will be hosting a live seminar on what the science tells us about fighting pandemics like Covid-19. 

Staff Reporter
2020-06-23 12:10:54 | 20 days ago

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