In an increasingly globalized world powered by disruptive technologies that are revolutionizing the transfer of ideas, the mode of investment and the system of innovations, it is naïve to assume that major global challenges can be solved by an elite group
We know that solutions to the most pressing human problems will primarily emerge from innovative approaches and cutting-edge research in science and technology. But such innovations can only flourish when they are supported by a healthy and vibrant research ecosystem that can sustain breakthroughs all the way from their discovery to delivery and impact.
Unfortunately, there is a clear disparity in this regard between the high and low-income countries. Many low and middle-income countries (LMICs) do not have appropriate access to the latest advances in research, and have a long way to go before they can assume leadership in developing indigenous solutions to global development challenges. The situation is particularly pronounced in the field of health and biomedical research.
Health and biomedical research forms the backbone of our response to life-threatening diseases and pandemics. Research not only leads the path to new approaches and tools for disease management, but also helps unravel best practices and eliminates barriers to care. Additionally, local environmental, cultural and biological factors also impact the spread of disease and contribute to its unique characteristics. In many cases, this leads to a need for locally-tailored responses for managing the same disease across different regions. Well-developed and independent health research capabilities are, therefore, the need of the hour, especially in the countries most affected by disease.
The LMICs are often plagued by systemic gaps in health sciences and research environment. These include a paucity of trained human resources, poor access to latest technologies and infrastructure, the lack of adherence to global standards, and inadequate financial resources. Consequently, many of their health priorities and concerns remain understudied and fail to get adequately reflected in global development agendas and budgets. While investments in health and biomedical research have increased in the LMICs in recent years, the field remains in a nascent stage and has only recently started gaining momentum.
INDIA’S UNIQUE POSITION
On the other hand, India’s is in the unique position of being a developing country and yet having steadily
and gradually developed significant capabilities in health and biotechnological research. Our research output includes over 60,000 research publications and the filing of over 11,000 domestic healthcare and pharma patents every year. Furthermore, a significant portion of vaccine supplies and formulation drugs across the world are developed and supplied by India. India is harnessing these capabilities not just to fuel its own thriving and innovative biotechnological ecosystem, but is also working with various African nations to enhance their capabilities in disease research and prevention through various collaborative projects and capacity strengthening programmes. In addition to sharing expertise and facilitating technology transfer, India has also committed significant resources towards enhancing capabilities in Africa, as is evident from the Africa Development and Health Funds announced by Prime Minister Narendra Modi at last year’s landmark India Africa Forum Summit III.
South-South cooperation through the sharing of development solutions – knowledge, skills, experiences, best practices, policies, know-how, and resources – is essential to scaling research capabilities in Africa and India towards attaining self-sufficiency in disease management. The complex nature of health problems faced by the global South demands a unique and multifaceted solution – one that addresses critical issues, including attracting the best scientific talent for research, securing the requisite investment, and leveraging low-cost technologies and products to bridge the gaps.
Economies in transition such as that of India, with their unique strengths in research expertise, affordable healthcare and low-cost manufacturing of drugs and medical devices, can play a focal role in spearheading this change. Pioneering collaborative projects and exchange programmes with the Indian centres of excellence, especially in emerging areas of research such as immunotherapy, genomics, proteomics, bioinformatics, computational biology and bioethics will help catalyze innovation and empower a critical mass of young scientists in developing countries – particularly in Africa – to lead and take the ownership of health research there. India’s strengths in pharma and vaccine manufacturing as well as in affordable high-quality medical care could also help transform these capabilities in Africa. These efforts will play a major role in accelerating the achievement of the highly ambitious Sustainable Development Goals, and making the world a happier, healthier place for generations to come. ■
There is a clear disparity in this regard between the high and low-income countries. Many low and middleincome countries (LMICs) do not have appropriate access to the latest advances in research, and have a long way to go before they can assume leadership in developing indigenous solutions to global development challenges.
Dr Soumya Swaminathan
DG, indian Council of medical Research
minister for health and Family welfare JP naDDa lighting the lamp to inaugurate the india-africa health Sciences meet organised by the iCmR and the ministry of External affairs in new Delhi on September 1, 2016