I find lack of funding as one of the most common complaints in research circles, but lack of political will towards implementation of policies is another of the top grumbles when it comes to research and development in Africa.
If we are to use today’s attendance alone as a yardstick, the motley mixture of African, European policy-makers and scientists meeting for the second programme of the European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP), political will could turn out to be the least of worries.
Which scientists would come to Cape Town and drown in the tastes of one of the finest wines on earth, forgetting their objective for traveling? Can a politician afford to be at this one-day meeting and forget that the urgent business is to link politics and science in finding ways and weapons to fight HIV, malaria and tuberculosis?
In such an august gathering it is in the mingling and sharing of high profile delegates that relationships get forged and alliances cemented.
So, should we safely say political will is a forgone conclusion by looking at the 180 plus guest list? No, they say, the taste of the pudding is in the eating. Isn’t it?
South Africa’s newly appointed minister of science and technology, Derek Hanekom, will shortly deliver a welcome address at the opening session.
The EU Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science, Ms Máire Geoghegan-Quinn and the EDCTP High Representative and former Prime Minister of Mozambique, Dr Pascoal Mocumbi. South Africa’s Minister of Health, Dr Aaron Motsoaledi, will also have their minutes of fame on the podium.
Keynote addresses will be delivered by Sheila Tlou, Director of the UNAIDS (Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS) Regional Support Team for East and Southern Africa, and Trevor Mundel, President of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s Global Health Programme.
Apart from policy-makers, there are also be product development partners and representatives of industry, non-governmental organisations and the research community.
The conference will also celebrate the 15thanniversary of the signing of the European Union-South Africa Science and Technology Cooperation Agreement.
Currently, EDCTP is a partnership between 16 European countries, the European Commission and sub-Saharan Africa.
Under the first EDCTP programme, around €400 million was invested in clinical trials, capacity building and networking activities in sub-Saharan Africa. At the end of 2011, 55 clinical trials had been funded. Eight of the completed EDCTP projects have resulted in improved policy guidelines or recommendations for clinical practice in Africa.
The site visits in Cape Town tomorrow will offer an eye opener at EDCTP-funded research on TB and HIV.
As delegates will continue to mix and mingle even on the sites visits, should we continue crying about lack of political will? Maybe. But what I know is that it is serious business time for the delegates