There is not a better time to interrogate whether Africa has the capacity to handle its ever-increasing health burden. The current COVID-19 pandemic has done this and more. It geared the continent to respond to protecting its citizens against the pandemic and exposed the glaring gaps and need for more attention in not just health, but adopt a holistic approach.
A webinar, presented by the South African Young Academy of Science (SAYAS) on Harnessing health Innovations in Africa to tackle COVID-19 & Beyond, held on 18 June 2020, explored this further as panellists noted that there are indeed gaps between service delivery and health systems, and the need for innovation in healthcare. Resource and funding also play a big role in envisioned responses and the work of organisations such as the South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC) and European and Developing Countries Clinical Trials Partnership (EDCTP) working with the Department of Science and Innovation (DSI) and other local partners to repurpose or open new funding portals to support substantial research and innovation response to the COVID-19 epidemic is crucial.
It was also noted that recent scientific outputs by African researchers to inform government policy on tackling the COVID-19 pandemic have demonstrated strong African leadership potentials in performing state-of-the-art scientific investigations. Whilst these positives were acknowledged, impediments lie in adoption mechanisms and strategies that seek to drive progress when it comes to responding to health challenges. There were calls for more collaboration among African countries as well as harnessing lessons and best practise from recent outbreaks such as the Ebola outbreak. Indeed, as we move forward on the path of development, Africa’s ability to create sustainable and efficient health systems will depend largely on its capacity to invent, deploy and scale-up solutions that are sensitive and appropriate for local communities.
On the panel were: A/Prof Sudesh Sivarasu, Associate Professor – Biomedical Engineering, Head of Medical Devices, Division of Biomedical Engineering, Department of Human Biology, University of Cape Town (UCT) and SAYAS member; Prof Salome Maswime, Obstetrician and Gynaecologist, Head of Global Surgery, UCT, President of the South African Clinician Scientist Society; Dr Michelle Mulder, Senior Program Manager, Grants, Innovation and Product Development Unit (GIPD), SAMRC; Prof Moses John Bockarie, Director of International Cooperation & Head of Africa Office, EDCTP, & Honorary Chief Specialist Scientist, SAMRC; and Dr Palesa Sekhejane, Research Specialist, African Institute of South Africa (AISA), Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC).
Access the podcast here: https://youtu.be/1YkTsCjc7rk