African Innovation: New Hope for Local Health Issues

13 12 2010

“These papers offer important lessons that can help to guide Africa and its international partners to complement 20th century policies on access to essential medicines and technology with 21st century approaches that focus on building health innovation systems. Those who take this route will find these papers highly valuable and timely.” -Calestous Juma

Dr. Peter Singer and Dr. Ken Simiyu discuss the findings of their research in a passionate studio discussion, African Innovation: New Hope for Local Health Issues.

The Problem

It has not been well understood what capabilities African countries, with their high disease burden, have in science-based health innovation. International health policy debates have been guided by the idea that Africa will remain a marginal player in the world of health innovation and will continue to rely on imported solutions.

The research of McLaughlin-Rotman Centre for Global Health

In December 2010, the McLaughlin-Rotman Centre for Global Health published a landmark series of papers that provide a unique perspective on the experience of countries and companies in Sub-Saharan Africa addressing health problems through local innovation.

The key finding of this research is that although African countries have strong capabilities in internalizing foreign health innovations, and especially in developing their own home-grown ideas and translating these into products and services, there are barriers to getting discoveries to the marketplace. The barriers are access to venture capital, the culture of the scientific community in Africa, need for equipment and infrastructure to validate discoveries, issues around intellectual property and regulatory infrastructure.

The results of these papers provide clear policy prescriptions on how African countries can help strengthen their emerging innovation systems to improve health outcomes while contributing to overall economic diversification.

Case Studies

Malaria Treatment

The series presents the results of extensive on-the-ground interviews in Ghana, Kenya, Madagascar, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, and Uganda in the form of four country case studies of health and biotechnology innovation, six studies of institutions within Africa involved in health product development, one study of health venture funds, and one study of stagnant health technologies.

Medical-Waste Incinerator

All of the examples that these case studies have produced, highlight pioneering attempts to build technological capacity, create economic opportunities and retain talent on a continent significantly affected by brain drain. The country case studies demonstrate the potential for innovation, while the institutions and companies and technology studies give real examples of technologies being developed. All countries exhibited a wide range of locally developed technologies: active pharmaceutical ingredients in Madagascar, medical devices in Tanzania and Uganda, diagnostics in Kenya and Ghana and traditional plant medicine technologies in Nigeria, among numerous others.

What are the Next Steps?

The authors of these papers challenge international agencies, donors and African governments to support and nurture local African innovative enterprises from a policy, funding and regulatory perspective because they can make a major contribution to better health in developing countries – and to their own health. Specifically, the authors propose the development of Life Science Innovation Centers that combine science, capital and entrepreneurship to provide scientists with the right environment to develop technologies that address local health issues. [en línea] Ontario (Canadá): 25 de noviembre de 2010 [ref. de diciembre de 2010] Disponible en Internet: