Daring to Dream: Reflections of a young African scientist on the state of scientific research in Africa and why there is cause for optimism

Colloquium | October 17 | 12:30-2 p.m. | 223 Moses Hall

 Yaw Bediako, Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, Francis Crick Institute

 Center for African Studies

Since the launch of the Millennium Development Goals in 2000, many countries in Africa have recorded significant improvements in a number of key development indices. Net enrollment in primary school education increased by 20% between 2000 and 2015 and maternal and all-cause child mortality have also significantly decreased over this period.
There has also been a significant increase in funding for scientific research aimed at addressing issues faced by people in Africa, with most of this funding going towards medical research and interventions targeting AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. As a result, the numbers of HIV infected people receiving antiretroviral therapy has increased by over 14 million since 2000 and over 900 million insecticide treated bed-nets have been distributed.

Despite these successes, approximately 400 million people in Africa currently live in extreme poverty and disparity between rich and poor continues to widen. 40% of people living with HIV do not currently have access to ART and 57% of people in Africa continue to live in areas of moderate-severe risk for malaria. Populations in Africa are also facing new threats as the incidence of non-communicable diseases such as cancer, diabetes and cardiovascular disease are increasing at an alarming rate, rapidly displacing infectious diseases as the major causes of morbidity and mortality on the continent. Alarmingly, despite billions of dollars invested in research “for the continent”, much of the research outputs are credited to scientists outside the continent with Africa-based scientists currently only accounting for 0.72% of global research output. While science and technology may indeed provide many of the solutions needed in Africa, it should be obvious that any long-term success will depend on the development and empowerment of local scientific capacity, capable of addressing a number of existing challenges and adapting to emerging ones. This paper will seek to describe the current state of scientific research on the continent, making the case for the need to develop local capacity and highlighting a few promising initiatives that seek to do just that.

After receiving a PhD in Immunology from Northwestern University (Evanston, IL) in 2012, Dr. Bediako served as an Assistant Professor in the department of Biology at Calvin College (Grand Rapids, MI) for 2 years. After this he took up a Post-Doctoral research scientist position at the KEMRI-Wellcome Trust Research Programme in Kilifi, Kenya where he studied the mechanisms of immunity to malaria in children. In 2015 he began a second post-doc at the Francis Crick Institute in London (U.K) where he joined the Malaria Immunology Laboratory.

"Growing up in Ghana, it’s perhaps not surprising that I have a particular interest in the immune responses to infectious pathogens that disproportionately impact people in developing countries. My long-term career goal has always been to establish myself as an independent researcher in Ghana and beginning in 2019, I will be setting up a research group at the West African Centre for Cell Biology of Infectious Pathogens (WACCBIP) at the University of Ghana."

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