jp nadda

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

Bureaucracy Today - - FRONT PAGE - ◆By Dr Soumya Swami­nathan

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.

FO­CAL ROLE

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

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