Ending the rhetoric: funding research and addressing health challenges in Africa

Ending the rhetoric: funding research and addressing health challenges in Africa

Raising a new voice for change

Ending the rhetoric: funding research and addressing health challenges in Africa

By Martin Amogre Ayanore & UHAS-HSG 2020 Convening Team

Urgent need for renewed calls for change on research and development in Africa

April 2021 marks twenty years since the Abuja declaration by African Governments to commit 15 per cent of GDP to health. In addition, during the African Union heads of state summit in 2006, a continental agreement was reached to commit 1 per cent of GDP to fund national research priorities. However, nearly two decades on, targets for research and development (R&D) and investments in the health sector remain unmet.

In contributing to renewed calls for African Governments to honour their pledges for R&D and greater investments in the health sector, University of Health and Allied Sciences (UHAS), Ghana, with support from Health Systems Global (HSG) organised a virtual convening on 29th and 30th July, 2020. The aim was to respond to the HSR2020 sub-themes of “engaging political forces” and “social, economic and environmental forces” and to galvanize support from political, social, economic, academic, and policy actors in Ghana and across the continent of Africa to end the rhetoric of national funding for research and act now to protect Africa’s future. Over 80 participants took part in the two-day event.

Welcoming participants, Dr. Martin Ayanore recounted the many voices that had gone before them on R&D in Africa, and urged participants to use the two days to chart a new pathway for the continent’s future on R&D.

Seven invigorating speakers and break-away discussions

Professor John Gyapong, Vice-Chancellor of UHAS gave a keynote talk on ‘Counting backward and forward: recounting the health research funding agenda in Ghana’. He highlighted the essence of science and discovery to development and bemoaned the failure of policy makers’ non-use of scientific evidence for decision making, citing this as a major bottleneck in Africa that has characterized the continent’s underdevelopment.

Professor Hannah Akuffo, Senior Research Advisor at the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida) spoke on ‘How to solve the puzzle of investing in research and innovation for health in Africa’. She called for African governments to foster national research support for R&D, and to create an enabling environment for promising researchers to thrive.

Dr. Joseph Okeibunor from the WHO Regional Office for Africa spoke on the topic: ‘Challenges and Opportunities for funding health research: perspectives from the WHO African Region’. He stressed that R&D is key to achieving Universal Health Coverage (UHC), hence, the need for national health research systems to lead in the design of tailored research to deliver on UHC and to fund health research domestically.

Day two of the event saw four speakers share their views on what is holding back Ghana’s R&D efforts.

Dr. Martha Gyansa-Lutterodt, Director of Technical Coordination in Ghana’s Ministry of Health emphasized the urgent need for an enhanced role of academia coupled with an environment that supports R&D. Professor Mike Osei-Atweneboana, Director of Water Research Institute, Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), Ghana, while acknowledging challenges such as limited resources for R&D, highlighted the need for strong dialogue between the public, government, and research and development institutes as key to making this public discussion of funding research a reality. In addition, Dr. Samuel Kaba Akoriyea, Director of Institutional Care at the Ghana Health Service cited knowledge translation of research outputs as a major gap that must be addressed by the R&D community. Dr Kodjo Esseim Mensah-Abrampa, Director-General of the National Development Planning Commission (NDPC), Ghana, hinted that NDPC, as a national priority, would monitor and report on research funding targets and as well as include research as a key component of Ghana’s next medium-term development plan from 2022-2025.

The convening panel of experts also held break-away sessions after each day’s presentations. Participants unanimously agreed that national level leadership in Africa should:

  • strengthen national health systems and capacity-building with clear research and policy agenda
  • emulate good country examples across Africa where there have been substantial commitment and investment in R&D
  • locally mobilise resources to support research scientists to make them competitive in grantsmanship
  • promote research that responds to local needs and informs policymaking.

UHAS looking ahead

The convening culminated in the drafting of UHAS 2020 Declaration on Research Funding that will be submitted to the President of the Republic of Ghana and other identified actors, as a vehicle to lobby government to invest in R&D. Read about it in the recent UHAS news item on the event.
UHAS will take the lead with support from key speakers to:

  • develop a portfolio of research interests on tracking governments’ commitment to funding research in Africa
  • broaden the scope of the public discourse for governments to honor past and present pledges for R&D in Africa
  • build synergies with research and academic institutions that will lead to consensus for high-level political commitment for R&D in Africa.

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