Nous, Voix africaines de la science, notons que la pandémie de la COVID-19 a plus que jamais démontré l’importance de la science dans nos sociétés modernes. La science s’est avérée être notre outil le plus vital pour mieux connaitre le virus mais aussi déterminer comment mieux répondre à la crise.

Bien que l’Afrique totalise près de la moitié des décès mondiaux dus aux maladies transmissibles, l’Afrique subsaharienne ne représente qu’environ 1% de la production scientifique mondiale. Cette situation est inacceptable.

Aujourd’hui, 615 millions d’Africains n’ont pas un accès suffisant à des soins de santé de qualité. Combinée à la hausse exponentielle des coûts des soins de santé, cette situation est en train de pousser le continent à son point de rupture. Nous avons besoin de toute urgence d’une plus grande proactivité et d’une plus grande responsabilisation des gouvernements africains si nous voulons résoudre notre déficit croissant en matière de soins de santé et répondre rapidement et efficacement aux futures menaces sanitaires.

Aujourd’hui, en marge du Forum Galien Afrique, nous appelons les gouvernements, les agences multilatérales et les entreprises à accroître de toute urgence les investissements dans la recherche et développement en matière de santé, afin d’améliorer la qualité et l’accessibilité de nos systèmes de santé. En tant que scientifiques, nous demandons les mesures suivantes :

En Afrique, la désinformation affecte tout particulièrement les sciences, l’innovation et la recherche et le développement.Een accentuant l’hésitation à se faire vacciner et en empêchant le développement et l’adoption de nouveaux outils et l’efficacité de la surveillance des maladies, les conséquences de la désinformation se ressentent dans le cadre de la lutte contre la COVID-19. Nous appelons donc les dirigeants africains à investir pour rendre les données sanitaires les plus cruciales accessibles aux 1,2 milliard de citoyens africains, afin de s’attaquer à la crise de la désinformation qui constitue un obstacle à la bonne santé de notre continent.

Malgré la nature mondiale de la pandémie, les solutions développées à l’échelle globale ne sont pas universelles ou applicables de manière cohérente à des régions comme l’Afrique. Il est de plus en plus évident que les pays disposant d’une infrastructure d’innovation bien établie réagissent aux crises de manière plus rapide et plus décisive, et que l’investissement dans le développement de ces fondations est crucial pour élaborer des solutions efficaces. Ce sont les africains qui savent comment résoudre les plus grands problèmes du continent et, à ce titre, nous avons besoin que les dirigeants investissent dans les laboratoires, les infrastructures et les technologies locales pour s’assurer que nous puissions répondre efficacement aux menaces sanitaires actuelles et futures de nos communautés.

Pour venir à bout de la crise sanitaire en Afrique, il est essentiel d’investir dans l’avenir, et l’éducation est la pierre angulaire de cet objectif. Nous devons former la prochaine génération de scientifiques et veiller à promouvoir les membres de nos communautés les plus négligés, notamment les femmes, afin de parvenir à une représentation égalitaire à tous les niveaux. Les dirigeants africains doivent augmenter les investissements dans l’enseignement et l’éducation, afin de porter la future génération de scientifiques, de médecins, d’infirmières et de professionnels de la santé.

La COVID-19 a démontré l’importance d’accroître l’accès aux médicaments de qualité et a mis en évidence le sous-investissement dans la R&D pour les diagnostics médicaux, la capacité à développer et à fabriquer des tests étant inégalement répartie dans le monde. Les experts africains doivent être à l’avant-garde du développement de nouvelles solutions de test qui répondent à nos besoins et sont numériquement connectées aux systèmes de santé pour soutenir les voies de traitement et renforcer la surveillance des maladies. Des organisations comme l’Agence africaine des médicaments (AMA) cherchent également à renforcer les cadres réglementaires afin d’élargir l’accès à des médicaments efficaces, sûrs et de qualité pour tous. Les dirigeants africains doivent s’engager auprès de l’AMA et d’autres cadres réglementaires si nous voulons réussir à transformer l’accessibilité des soins de santé sur le continent.

L’histoire a démontré que les crises peuvent entraîner des changements transformateurs, et la crise de la COVID-19 confirme cette règle. En raison de la pandémie et des stratégies de distanciation physique, nous avons assisté à une accélération de la transformation numérique de l’Afrique, qui était auparavant à la traîne. Après l’année écoulée, on ne peut nier l’importance des données et de la surveillance pour cibler les ressources et adapter notre réponse à la maladie. Pour parvenir à un système de santé efficace, les gouvernements africains et le secteur privé doivent continuer à investir dans la technologie et l’innovation numérique.

La COVID-19 a illustré la nécessité d’une coopération entre les pays et les régions, ainsi que l’incapacité d’une seule nation à assurer sa propre sécurité sanitaire en isolation. Il est impératif que les gouvernements africains deviennent les champions de la coopération régionale, qui permettra non seulement d’améliorer les connaissances scientifiques mais aussi de favoriser le développement durable sur le continent. La création de réseaux scientifiques et la facilitation de l’accès à l’information scientifique seront également essentielles à la constitution d’une base de recherche africaine solide et intégrée à la communauté scientifique internationale.


Au cours des dernières années, et de manière collective, nous avons réalisé d’importants progrès, généré des innovations qui prépareront mieux l’Afrique aux futures épidémies et qui nous permettront de relever les défis sanitaires actuels. 

L’échéance des Objectifs de développement durable des Nations unies pour 2030 se rapproche. Si nous voulons parvenir à l’équité mondiale en matière de santé au cours des huit prochaines années, il est impératif que l’Afrique investisse dans la R&D ciblée en matière de santé. Nous avons un besoin immédiat de coopération, d’investissement et d’action de la part de nos dirigeants ; l’avenir de l’Afrique en dépend. 

Liste des signataires :

  1. Professeur Elizabeth Bukusi, responsable de la recherche à l’Institut de recherche médicale du Kenya (KEMRI), Kenya.
  2. Georgina Odaibo, chef du département de virologie de l’université d’Ibadan, Nigeria.
  3. Christian Happi, professeur de biologie moléculaire Université Redeemers, Nigeria
  4. Dr. Clement Meseko, Institut national de recherche vétérinaire Jos, Nigeria
  5. Prof. Glenda Gray, présidente et directrice générale du Conseil sud-africain de la recherche médicale (SAMRC), Afrique du Sud.
  6. Dr Carol Benn, spécialiste des maladies du sein, Afrique du Sud
  7. Pr Abdou Salam Fall, Coordinateur du Laboratoire de recherche sur les transformations économiques et sociales (LARTES – IFAN), Sénégal
  8. Pr Samba Sow, Directeur du Centre de Développement des Vaccins du Mali, Mali
  9. Dr. Neema Kaseje, chirurgien, Médecins Sans Frontières, Kenya
  10. Prof. Oyawale Tomori, professeur de virologie, ancien vice-chancelier de l’université Redeemers, Nigeria.

À propos de Voix Africaines de la Science 

Les Voix africaines de la science est une initiative menée par Speak Up Africa qui rassemble des scientifiques, des chercheurs et des experts de la santé de toute l’Afrique afin d’encourager un débat public ouvert sur les principaux défis et solutions en matière de santé sur le continent. En amplifiant des voix crédibles qui peuvent parler en faveur de la recherche et du développement et changer le récit sur la COVID-19 en Afrique, l’initiative vise à souligner l’importance d’augmenter l’investissement dans le secteur de la recherche et du développement en Afrique tout en renforçant la confiance dans l’innovation en matière de santé. 

Scientists urge support from African governments, multilateral agencies and businesses to increase quality and accessibility of healthcare systems and combat misinformation

Dakar, 10 December, 2021 – Today, during the 4th Galien Forum Africa held in Dakar, Senegal, prominent African scientists demanded increased regional scientific cooperation and investment in healthcare research, in response to a concerning increase in misinformation on the continent.

The scientists, including Professors Awa Marie Coll-Seck and Samba Sow, are all members of the ‘African Voices of Science’ initiative, launched by Senegalese advocacy and action tank Speak Up Africa. This initiative aims to reinforce the importance of increased investment in Africa’s research and development sector while building trust in health innovation.

The COVID-19 pandemic has illustrated the importance of science, which in Africa is undermined by misinformation, increasing vaccine hesitancy and preventing the development and adoption of new tools. To build resilience, this group of scientists are calling for an increase in local investment in scientific and manufacturing capacity, the scaling-up of Africa’s digital transformation and strengthening access to public health information.

The global pandemic has also highlighted the need for greater proactivity and ownership from African governments to tackle Africa’s growing healthcare deficit and respond quickly and effectively to future health threats.

The declaration comes as 615 million Africans still lack sufficient access to quality healthcare. Africa accounts for almost half of global deaths from communicable diseases, but sub-Saharan Africa only represents around 1% of the world’s scientific output.

With the deadline for the 2030 United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals getting ever closer, it’s critical that we come together to meet this challenge, and now. Africa must invest in targeted research and development to achieve health equity, but we need our governments, civil society, researchers and businesses to take a co-ordinated approach and maximize synergies for us to reach that goal« .

Professor Awa Marie Coll-Seck, Minister of State of Senegal and Chair of the Scientific Committee for the Galien Forum Africa

“By the end of 2022, technology alone will have created 133 million jobs around the world. In order to successfully transition African countries from developing to developed economies, our governments must now invest in education and in R&D, which yield a considerable return on investment.”

Imodoye Abioro, CEO of Healthbiotics and winner of the first Young African Innovators for Health Award

Recognizing the importance of supporting women in developing female-led solutions, Speak Up Africa and IFPMA also launched the Women Innovators Incubator. This initiative aims to address the blatant gaps in female-led innovation and tackle the additional hurdles women face to help take their business ideas from concept to implementation. 

In addition, Speak Up Africa organized two panels during the Forum Galien Africa’s Youth Forum. The first featured the three winners of the inaugural African Young Innovators for Health Awards, and the second showcasing examples of youth leadership helping to achieve sustainable change at the community level.

“Now is the time to celebrate and promote existing scientific leadership within Africa and listen to the calls of our most trusted and credible professionals. The Forum Galien Africa, currently underway in Dakar, offers the perfect platform for amplifying the voice of Africa’s scientists while engaging with the next generation of future leaders.”

Yacine Djibo, Founder and Executive Director, Speak Up Africa

To view the full open letter from the African Voices of Science members, visit La Tribune Afrique.

List of signatories:

  1. Professor Elizabeth Bukusi, Chief Research Officer at the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI), Kenya
  2. Prof. Georgina Odaibo, Head of Virology Department, University of Ibadan, Nigeria
  3. Prof. Christian Happi, Professor of Molecular Biology Redeemers University, Nigeria
  4. Dr. Clement Meseko, National Veterinary Research Institute Jos, Nigeria
  5. Prof Glenda Gray, President and CEO of South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC), South Africa
  6. Dr Carol Benn, Breast Disease Expert, South Africa
  7. Pr Abdou Salam Fall, Coordinator of the Research Laboratory on Economic and Social Transformations (LARTES – IFAN), Senegal
  8. Pr Samba Sow, Director of Center of Vaccine Development Mali, Mali
  9. Dr. Neema Kaseje, Surgeon, Médecins Sans Frontières, Kenya
  10. Prof. Oyawale Tomori, Professor of Virology, Former Vice-Chancellor, Redeemers University, Nigeria

Les scientifiques exhortent le soutien des gouvernements africains, des agences multilatérales et des entreprises pour améliorer la qualité et l’accessibilité des systèmes de santé et lutter contre la désinformation.

Dakar, le 10 Décembre, 2021 – Aujourd’hui, en marge du 4ème Forum Galien Afrique qui se tient à Dakar, au Sénégal, d’éminents scientifiques africains lancent un appel pour parvenir à un renforcement de la coopération scientifique régionale et des investissements accrus dans la recherche sur la santé, en réponse à une augmentation inquiétante de la désinformation sur le continent.

Les scientifiques, dont les professeurs Awa Marie Coll-Seck et Samba Sow, participent à l’initiative des « Voix africaines de la science », lancée par l’organisation à but non lucratif de communication stratégique et de plaidoyer basée à Dakar, Speak Up Africa. Cette initiative vise à souligner l’importance d’un investissement accru dans le secteur de la recherche et du développement en Afrique tout en instaurant la confiance dans l’innovation en matière de santé.

La pandémie de la COVID-19 a illustré l’importance de la science, qui en Afrique est minée par la désinformation, ce qui accroît l’hésitation à se faire vacciner et empêche le développement et l’adoption de nouveaux outils. Pour renforcer la résilience, ce groupe de scientifiques appelle à une augmentation des investissements nationaux dans les capacités scientifiques et de fabrication, à l’intensification de la transformation numérique de l’Afrique et au renforcement de l’accès aux informations de santé publique.

La pandémie mondiale a également mis en évidence la nécessité d’une plus grande proactivité et d’une plus grande appropriation de la part des gouvernements africains pour s’attaquer au déficit croissant de l’Afrique en matière de soins de santé et répondre rapidement et efficacement aux futures menaces sanitaires.

Cette déclaration intervient alors que 615 millions d’Africains n’ont toujours pas un accès suffisant à des soins de santé de qualité. Alors que l’Afrique concentre près de la moitié des décès mondiaux dus à des maladies transmissibles, l’Afrique subsaharienne ne représente qu’environ 1% de la production scientifique mondiale.

« L’échéance des Objectifs de développement durable 2030 des Nations unies se rapprochant de plus en plus, il est essentiel de se mobiliser pour relever ce défi et dès maintenant. L’Afrique doit investir dans la recherche et le développement basés sur ses besoins, pour parvenir à l’équité en matière de santé, mais il faut que nos gouvernements, notre société civile, nos chercheurset nos entreprises agissent d’une manière coordonnée et synergique pour que nous puissions atteindre cet objectif. »

Professeure Awa Marie Coll-Seck, Ministre d’État du Sénégal et Présidente du comité scientifique du Forum Galien Afrique

« En fin 2022, la technologie à elle seule créera 133 millions d’emplois dans le monde. Pour que nous passions de pays en voie de développement à pays développés, nos gouvernements doivent investir maintenant dans l’éducation et la rechercher et le développement car le retour sur investissement sera extrêmement important. »

Imodoye Abioro, CEO de Healthbiotics et lauréat de la première édition du Prix des jeunes innovateurs africains pour la santé

Reconnaissant l’importance de soutenir les femmes dans le développement de solutions dirigées par des femmes, Speak Up Africa et IFPMA ont également lancé l’Incubateur pour l’innovation féminine. Cette initiative vise à combler les lacunes flagrantes en matière d’innovation dirigée par des femmes et à s’attaquer aux obstacles supplémentaires auxquels les femmes sont confrontées pour faire passer leurs idées sur le monde de l’entreprise du concept à la mise en œuvre. 

En outre, Speak Up Africa a organisé deux discussions lors du Forum des jeunes du Galien Afrique. L’une présentant les trois vainqueurs du premier Prix des jeunes innovateurs africains pour la santé et l’autre mettant à l’honneur le leadership des jeunes pour atteindre des changements durables au niveau communautaire.

« Le moment est venu de célébrer et de promouvoir le leadership scientifique existant en Afrique et d’écouter les appels de nos experts les plus fiables et les plus crédibles. Le Forum Galien Afrique, qui se déroule actuellement, offre une parfaite plateforme pour amplifier les voix des scientifiques africains tout en s’engageant auprès de la prochaine génération de futurs leaders.« 

Yacine Djibo, Fondatrice et directrice exécutive de Speak Up Africa

Découvrez l’intégralité de la lettre ouverte des Voix africaines de la science, rendez-vous sur Le Point Afrique.

Liste des signataires :

  1. Professor Elizabeth Bukusi, Chief Research Officer at the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI), Kenya
  2. Prof. Georgina Odaibo, Head of Virology Department, University of Ibadan, Nigeria
  3. Prof. Christian Happi, Professor of Molecular Biology Redeemers University, Nigeria
  4. Dr. Clement Meseko, National Veterinary Research Institute Jos, Nigeria
  5. Prof Glenda Gray, President and CEO of South African Medical Research Council (SAMRC), South Africa
  6. Dr Carol Benn, Breast Disease Expert, South Africa
  7. Pr Abdou Salam Fall, Coordinator of the Research Laboratory on Economic and Social Transformations (LARTES – IFAN), Senegal
  8. Pr Samba Sow, Director of Center of Vaccine Development Mali, Mali
  9. Dr. Neema Kaseje, Surgeon, Médecins Sans Frontières, Kenya
  10. Prof. Oyawale Tomori, Professor of Virology, Former Vice-Chancellor, Redeemers University, Nigeria
Last week, advocacy tank Speak Up Africa and the Baobab Institute convened digital health experts who discussed the challenges and opportunities of the digital age for the sector and how to address current policy gaps as part of Digital Health Week (29 November – 3 December).

The discussions focused on the transformative power of technology on adequate and affordable health services in Africa. Moderated by Founder of the Baobab Institute, Pape Gaye, panel members including Amadou Moreau from the Global Research and Advocacy Group with substantial contributions from Sebastien Kusznier from IT4Life and Nils Kaiser Digital Health Advisor from kaikai explored how to make data and information about digital health more accessible in order to accelerate progress toward meeting the UN Global Goal of global health coverage by 2030.

We see digital health as the next step in our journey to achieving universal health coverage, especially in Africa. Together with the Baobab Institute, we are seeking to provide a space where actors who are already in the digital health space can interact with those looking to enter it, and with the physical health sector. Now we must look to expand our current technical capacity to enhance our ability to implement these changes.

Ms. Yacine Djibo, Executive Director of Speak Up Africa 

Digital Health Week, organized by Transform Health, saw people from around the world come together to accelerate digital transformation of health in a bid to achieve universal health coverage by 2030. In 2015, world leaders committed to this global target to ensure everyone has access to quality health services, without facing financial hardship. Despite the expansion of health services, according to current trends only 50% of the global population are predicted to benefit from essential health services by this date.

Digital health, as defined by the World Health Organization (WHO) is “any aspect of adopting digital technologies to improve health, from inception to operation” – and includes mobile health technologies, telehealth services, wearables, electronic health records, AI-based disease monitoring, digital diagnostics, robotics, and more. Existing digital technologies can be harnessed to solve problems at a local level, strengthening health systems and increasing accessibility.

Africans have the potential to harness and improve on existing digital technologies and implement them in unique ways that benefit local people and address specific issues. We need to discover and invest in emerging local talent so that we are better equipped to create our own sustainable strategies.

Pape Gaye, Founder of Baobab Institute

Digital technologies are already a growing part of most health systems. However, in many countries, digitalisation is without direction or as part of a unified strategy. This is a key aspect of the work that both Speak Up Africa and the Baobab Institute will seek to lead on going forward, with a focus on uniting the emerging digital word with established healthcare systems, and educating and enabling heath workers.

We have to physically engage our communities with technology and innovation. To ensure that new technologies are successfully adopted, healthcare staff must be directly involved from the beginning. We must nurture a dynamic of co-creation if we are to move forward and fully appropriate these tools to create real change in the health sector.

Jean-Philbert Nsengimana, Keynote speaker, Africa Managing Director of the Commons Project, and former minister of Youth and ITC for Rwanda

Dakar, le 9 décembre 2021 – La semaine dernière, l’organisation à but non lucratif de plaidoyer et de communication stratégique Speak Up Africa et l’Institut Baobab ont réuni des experts de la santé numérique pour discuter des défis et des opportunités de l’ère numérique pour le secteur de la santé et de la manière de combler les lacunes politiques actuelles dans le cadre de la Semaine de la santé numérique (29 novembre – 3 décembre).

Les discussions ont porté sur le potentiel transformateur de la technologie sur des services de santé plus adéquats et abordables en Afrique. Modérés par le fondateur de l’Institut Baobab, Papa Gaye, les participants, dont Amadou Moreau du Global Research and Advocacy Group, Marie Ba du Partenariat de Ouagadougou et Babacar Gueye d’IntraHealth International, ont exploré comment rendre les données et les informations sur la santé numérique plus accessibles afin d’accélérer les progrès vers la réalisation de l’objectif mondial des Nations unies d’une couverture sanitaire mondiale d’ici 2030.

« Nous considérons la santé numérique comme la prochaine étape de notre parcours vers la couverture sanitaire universelle, en particulier en Afrique. Avec l’Institut Baobab, nous cherchons à créer un espace où les acteurs de la santé, les spécialistes de la santé numérique, et ceux qui cherchent à y entrer peuvent interagir. Nous devons maintenant développer nos capacités techniques actuelles pour permettre une meilleure mise en œuvre de ces changements. »

Mme Yacine Djibo, directrice exécutive de Speak Up Africa

La Semaine de la santé numérique, organisée par Transform Health, a vu des personnes du monde entier se réunir pour accélérer la transformation numérique de la santé dans le but d’atteindre la couverture sanitaire universelle d’ici 2030. En 2015, les dirigeants du monde entier se sont engagés à atteindre cet objectif mondial pour que tout un chacun ait accès à des services de santé de qualité, sans difficultés financières. Pour autant, malgré le développement des services de santé, si les tendances actuelles se maintiennent, seulement 50% de la population mondiale aura accès aux services de santé essentiels en 2030. 

L’Organisation mondiale de la santé (OMS) définit la santé numérique comme « tout aspect de l’adoption des technologies numériques en vue d’améliorer la santé, de la conception à l’opérationnel ». Elle englobe les technologies de santé mobiles, les services de télémédecine, les « wearables », les dossiers médicaux électroniques, le suivi des maladies par l’intelligence artificielle, les diagnostics numériques, la robotique, etc. Les technologies numériques existantes peuvent être utilisées pour résoudre des problèmes au niveau local, en renforçant les systèmes de santé et en améliorant l’accessibilité.

« Les Africains ont la capacité d’utiliser et d’améliorer les technologies numériques existantes et de les déployer de manière unique, au bénéfice des populations locales et pour résoudre des problèmes spécifiques. Nous devons découvrir et investir dans les talents locaux émergents afin d’être mieux équipés et pour créer nos propres stratégies durables. »

Pape Gaye, fondateur de l’Institut Baobab

Les technologies numériques occupent déjà une place croissante dans la plupart des systèmes de santé. Cependant, dans de nombreux pays, la digitalisation se fait sans direction ou en l’absence d’une stratégie unifiée. C’est un aspect essentiel du travail que Speak Up Africa et l’Institut Baobab cherchent à mettre en œuvre à l’avenir, avec pour objectifs de rassembler le monde numérique émergent et les systèmes de santé établis, et d’éduquer et renforcer les capacités des professionnels de la santé.

Le conférencier d’honneur de l’évènement, Jean-Philbert Nsengimana, directeur général pour l’Afrique du projet Commons et ancien ministre de la jeunesse et des technologies de l’information et de la communication du Rwanda, conclut : « Nous devons engager physiquement nos communautés avec la technologie et l’innovation. Pour que les nouvelles technologies soient adoptées avec succès, le personnel de santé doit être directement impliqué dès le début. Nous devons nourrir une dynamique de cocréation si nous voulons aller de l’avant et nous approprier pleinement ces outils pour créer un véritable changement dans le secteur de la santé. »

Today is an important day for Africa, as we come together to celebrate our freedom and independence. As a continent, we have so much to be proud of. Despite some prevailing public health challenges, we have used our collective wisdom, talent and leadership across areas from immunization to sanitation to further the sustainable development agenda and improve the lives of millions.  

However, despite these achievements, we still have so much to work towards and overcome. Our public health systems need further investment, we need greater funding for research and development to find new ways to treat diseases like trachoma and malaria, and we must scale up lifesaving public health interventions that protect communities across the continent. It was for this very reason that I decided to start Speak Up Africa almost ten years ago. As a specialised advocacy action tank, through our platforms and relationships, and with the help of our dedicated partners, we ensure that policy makers meet implementers; that both issues and solutions are showcased; and that everyone – from communities and civil society organizations to business leaders – play their part in contributing towards a healthier and more prosperous Africa. 

And the past year has shown us just how essential it is that all levels of society play their part in protecting health. As the COVID-19 pandemic struck, everyone – from public health leaders to community health workers – showed incredible commitment and made sure that communities were protected and treated for COVID-19. At Speak Up Africa, we launched our Stay Safe Africa campaign, to empower communities and individuals to take simple and proven prevention measures to help prevent the spread of coronavirus in Africa. As part of the campaign, we’ve also drawn attention to the importance of vaccine equity and advocated for greater African manufacturing capabilities to meet demand. 

Championing African solutions for African challenges is something that we have continued to dedicate our time and resource to, firstly through the launch of our African Voices of Science initiative, which aims to provide a platform for trusted African science leaders and health experts to share reliable information with African populations. The COVID-19 crisis laid bare the importance for local experts to be providing sound information to help people interpret data and guidance, understand risks, and appropriately respond to their local content, and so we are delighted to work with a range of fantastic experts to amplify their credible voices, perspectives and potential solutions to our health concerns. 

Secondly the Africa Young Innovators for Health Award, in partnership with the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Companies, IFPMA), which seeks to highlight and support the work of pioneering young African entrepreneurs developing health innovations that can make a real difference to healthcare workers. The award is an important investment in the human capital of Africa’s promising young entrepreneurs, and we look forward to awarding these fantastic innovators later this year. 

Ahead of Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) day this Friday, we are also proud to continue our important work on MHM through our “Menstrual Hygiene Management: from taboo to economic power” campaign with our partner KITAMBAA. This project seeks to break the silence around menstruation and empower women and girls to urge leaders to implement public policies that account for women’s needs. This is another important initiative that engages African citizens in the decision-making process, ensuring that these solutions work for those they are intended for. Our continent and its people have so much to offer, which is why it is essential to have continued African ownership, leadership and partnership. I am proud that Speak Up Africa plays its role in amplifying African voices across the continent, and I truly believe that by embracing our power, utilising our best and brightest, and shouting loud and clear, we will be able to strengthen our continent and transform the public health agenda.


Yacine Djibo, Founder and Executive Director, Speak Up Africa

Today, Speak Up Africa announces its latest initiative , African Voices of Science in collaboration with established scientists, researchers and health experts to generate an open public discourse on key health challenges and solutions across the continent.

Through African Voices of Science, leading African scientists are communicating about the benefits of medical research and innovation, and the impact of global health crises such as COVID-19, sharing these crucial messages through traditional media, social media and events.

By amplifying credible voices who can speak up for research and development and shift the narrative on COVID-19 in Africa, the initiative aims to reinforce the importance of increased investment in the Research & Development sector while building trust in health innovation.

More than a dozen scientists with specialist expertise in a broad range of health issues from across Kenya, Nigeria, Mali, Senegal and South Africa are participating highlighting topics ranging from COVID-19 vaccine trials to emerging new research in infectious diseases. African Voices of Science also provides a platform for experts to share their own research and development innovations with the wider public.

“Putting innovation front of stage, and building trust and engagement in it, must be at the heart of our efforts to achieve a stronger, healthier future for Africa. I am therefore proud to use my voice to ensure that our research and development sector is prioritized, to harness the collective talents of our continent’s eminent scientists and researchers”

Pr Awa Marie Coll-Seck, Minister of State to the President of Senegal, Chair of the scientific committee for the Galien Forum Africa and former Minister of Health and Social Action, Senegal.

In 2020, COVID-19 put an emphasis on research and development like never before. The COVID-19 crisis has emphasized the need for local experts to be providing sound, factual information to help people interpret data and guidance, understand risks and appropriately respond to their local context. From public health to scientific research to the economy, there is a great deal of misinformation and speculation being spread via traditional and social media.

Moreover, innovations in medical research over recent years have led to incredible achievements for public health in Africa. Misinformation could, however, slow the development and delivery of innovation – impeding clinical trial recruitment and the acceptability and uptake of new tools and measures to prevent, treat and diagnose diseases that holds back the development of the African continent.

“The importance of effective communication can never be underestimated. That is true now more than ever, as we see the effects of the infodemic that has accompanied the clinical COVID-19 pandemic. It takes time, patience and close work with communities to overcome their fears and misunderstandings. The COVID-19 vaccination program will require the same patience and community engagement to ensure the required uptake is achieved.”

Pr Samba Sow, Director General, CVD-Mali and Special Envoy on COVID-19 Preparedness and Response WHO Director-General’s Special Envoys.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, we need to prioritize community leadership, and maintain community trust. The Ebola crisis in West Africa ended when the community took the lead. We must ensure the public has access to reliable and accurate information. We must involve the public during the whole process of developing and rolling out vaccines. Scientists will need to actively and frequently engage with the public, through media, social media and radio,”

Dr. Neema Kaseje, Paediatric Surgeon & Public Health Specialist, Surgical Systems Research Group, Kisumu, Kenya

Find out more and discover the full panel of experts participating in the initiative here.

Nigeria’s frontline vaccine researcher, Dr. Clement Meseko of the National Veterinary Research Institute speaks on the process of vaccine production, the safety of the COVID-19 vaccine and the role of Nigerian scientists in the development of the COVID-19 vaccine. In this interview, he debunked various myths and misconceptions about the vaccines and tells why vaccines are God’s miracle to save humans. Chiamaka Ozulumba brings excerpts

As a scientist in the area of vaccines research and development, can you share your journey into the field of vaccinology?

Interestingly, before I became a researcher, which is like 18years down the line, I had worked before then for five years, marketing and distributing veterinary anti-infectives and vaccines to stockholders, what my job was then was the delivery of animal health product, including drug and vaccines to livestock owners, to animals both for domestic and pets. I had been someone that has marketed or someone that promotes and markets vaccines because of the advantage. You know in therapeutics in the life’s science in our attempt to find solutions to infectious diseases, two major things historically has been very effective, one is chemotherapeutic, that was the advent of antibiotics, so you know that before the advent of antibiotics, people get sick, people get infections and there were no cure until that magic bullet was discovered.

Another major one that has ever happened to mankind is the development of vaccines. You know what vaccine is? Vaccine is a product of what is causing the disease. For instance if I am developing a vaccine now, I use the very virus, the very bacteria, the very agent that is responsible for the infection to develop my vaccine. So, the kind of method is that the agent that is causing the disease in its infectious state can cause a lot of havoc, so you will get that particular virus and you inactive it, it means you render it incapable of causing infection, however, it is still like an antigen that the body will still recognise, so the body recognize it and produce antibodies against it, so that peradventure you are exposed to a similar infection in the future, the antibodies that has been produced in response to the stimulation by the ineffectious agents is there to prevent the infection from taking place. So, while I was marketing vaccines and drugs for five years, I saw that there was a lot of disease maladies, what my next inclination was to get involved in the research aspect of the vaccines and drugs that I am used to marketing, that was how I joined the research institute, and for the last 18 years I have been involved in research into virology, vaccinology and finding solutions to problems of infectious diseases.

So to me, Vaccine is one great miracle that God has provided, unfortunately because of ignorance and the need to get more of this knowledge across to the public so that they will appreciate that vaccine is a very potent tool that God has given us so that we can be free from a lot of maladies.

Aside the COVID-19 Vaccines, have you been involved in any particular research on vaccines?

As you probably would have found out from my profile, I am veterinarian before I became a virologist. And being a virologist, I have a kind of diversity in the areas of vaccination, there has been a lot of vaccines that has been produced in this country before it was stopped, like the human vaccine, the yellow fever vaccine, but at the moment the only vaccines that are been produced in Nigeria are vaccines that are targeted for animal health, so most of my research had been on veterinary vaccines but it will interest you to know that about 25 veterinary vaccines have been produced in Nigeria, the one that you can relate to is the rabies vaccine, rabies is the kind of disease that affect animal and human, the major animal carrier of rabies in Nigeria is dog, occasionally we find it in bats, but the one we are most exposed to in Nigeria is dog, it is often said that 99% of human exposure to rabies is due to dog bite, so we have this virus in dog and the dog also contract it from other sources, it could be from wild life, it could be from rodents, it could be from other mammals in the wild, and so when it gets into the dog the dog gets sick, and you hear about mad dog, that is how severe the infection is, the dog becomes mad until it dies, so the same thing happens if the dog bites the human being, the human being becomes so hyperactive and express a lot of nervous disorder and eventually dies, so it is a fatal disease that kills as it gets into the host, it kills the dog, it kills the human.

The good news is that there is a vaccine that has been developed for rabies, so if you have your dog vaccinated, even when this dog contracts rabies it will not affect the dog and if the dog is protected, the likelihood of the dog transmitting to human is nill and besides the dog rabies vaccines that is used in Nigeria, we at the National Veterinary Institute in Nigeria developed the rabies vaccines, we produce it, it is being used, and it is fully commercialised. But there are other vaccines for human rabies, pre and post exposure human rabies vaccines, we don’t have that in Nigeria, but if a human being is immunised just the same way the dog is immunised, the human will be protected. So what better advantage could we have, you have a disease that is almost 100 per cent fatal so it means if anybody is bitten by a rabies dog, the person will most likely die but if the person is vaccinated, the person stands a chance of surviving. So we produce a lot of veterinary related vaccines in Nigeria, it is the same process for any other vaccine development, it is the same principles and the same outcome, it is just the host that differs.

Let’s talk about the COVID-19 Vaccines, were you involved in any way in this particular vaccine?

Since the onset of COVID 19, scientists have been very busy, at the government level, federal ministry of health, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC), human right agencies and many other agencies; we formed a lot of consortium, the National COVID 19 Research Consortium, so within this consortium there are a lot of thematic areas, knowing that COVID 19 emerged from animal, there are groups that are trying to find out the relationship with animals, there are groups that are involved in attempt to find a cure and case management, there are groups that are involved with the epidemiology of COVID 19, there are groups concerned with development of vaccines, many groups are still being formed, interestingly, I am part of some of these groups, so you know the way we work in science, if you have an idea, you are asked to write a proposal about what you want to do and how you want to do it and what it will take for you to do it, so if your proposal is found worthy, then you can be given a grant, so we have submitted a lot of proposal as individuals and collectively.

So we have recently also formed a consortium between some agencies like the Usman Danfodio University, the National Institute for Medical Research and the Nigeria Veterinary Research Institute, we are forming different kinds of coalition and writing for grants, seeking for grants, because vaccine development is not a small business, it requires a lot of financing, so if any of these grant is awarded we hope that we can move to the next stage. Some of these consortiums like to take advantage of existing infrastructure; there are also newer technologies for vaccines development. In the old ways of making vaccines you take a whole organism that is responsible for the disease, you inactive it, so you have a whole virus that is a vaccine, over time you don’t need the whole virus, these days you take a minor portion of the virus and now look for the vector, essentially that was how the AstraZeneca vaccine was developed, they just took a portion of COVID-19 and inserted it into another virus that is not pathogenic, that is mild, that will not cause disease in human, that can replicate, in the cause of its replication it is also replicating the antigen of the COVID-19, so all these technologies are available and researchers in Nigeria are capable of all these explorations and another advantage that we have is that at the National Veterinary Research Institute, that we have produced 25 vaccines in the last 100 years, we have infrastructure in place that can scale up vaccine production, so if the technology is developed today and we are looking for where scaling up of production can be done, we have places in Nigeria that can be enhance and can readily fit into the process, because for how long can we depend on importation of vaccines, imagine the kind of population that we have, so we have vaccinated about 1 million persons in Nigeria, they have taken the first dose, they will still need the second dose, so we are doing like less than 0.5% of the population, so there is that need to develop local capacities so a lot of research is going on and a lot of proposals have been written. We are hoping that some of these proposals can be favorably received and grants will be awarded and allow Nigerian scientists to step up and see what they can do in respect to COVID-19 research and development.

Is your coalition targeting the Central Bank of Nigeria fund on COVID-19 research, and how is your coalition organising in developing Africa’s own vaccine?

As I mentioned earlier, apart from CBN, we have grants opportunities from TETFUND, private sectors like Dangote Groups and others, they are also organising to see how they can contribute, so we are also channeling some of the grant proposals to them to see how they can fund some of these things; concept notes have been developed, proposals have been written. So, the Nigeria COVID-19 Research Coalition, we have actually designed for immediate response on how scientists can have themselves organized, the group have been organised along several thematic areas of research, some of which also involves vaccine research and development, there are those who are charged with responsibility of resource mobilisation, another arm is also responsible for managing the scientific world, they handle the proposals that other scientists write, they are then subjected to peer review, amendment will be made, it will then be subjected to external review, then it will now be passed to the resource mobilisation who will now seek for organizations including government and non-governmental who can fund the research so that is the goal, it is just that some process can be slow, but I can assure you that such is ongoing.

What in specific terms can Nigeria or African government do to support homegrown scientists in the development and production of vaccines?

Most times in the past when there is outbreak of a new disease it goes on for a long time before the research commence, first of all you try to understand the disease itself, the pathogenicity, the epidemiology and all the biological characteristics, before you now think of isolating the pathogens and seeking to develop a vaccine and when the vaccine is developed, it goes through series of testing, starting from animal testing, clinical trials; phase 1, phase 2, phase 3, all these takes a long time. So at the end of the day, the vaccines take about 10 to 20 years before they are developed but the interesting thing with the COVID-19 is that the time for developing the vaccine is short, which is one of the reasons why people are skeptical about the vaccine which naturally should not be because technology have improved over time. Technological advancement has sped up discovery and development, one advantage too is that some of the companies that developed the vaccines have been used to vaccines for influenza, influenza is another kind of respiratory virus that has similarities with COVID-19.

As a matter of fact those of us in the sciences, virologists, we have always known that a pandemic will soon emerge, when we were marking the 100 years of the Spanish flu, we had suspected that a pandemic will soon emerge, all the factors were there, and for me who had always done research on influenza, I had thought that the next pandemic will emerge from influenza, now it didn’t happen with influenza, it happened with corona virus, so we were not surprised that a pandemic emerged. So those countries and those agencies already have platform for producing influenza vaccine, the infrastructure, capacity and expertise are on-ground, that is what is lacking in Nigeria, research have been poorly developed, our infrastructure has not been maintained and so when it comes to the need for vaccine development our efforts cannot be as rapid as we have it in the developed countries because their infrastructure is there, it is not that we cannot develop vaccines of these magnitude, we can, but it wouldn’t be fast.

So the lesson is that there is a need to strengthen infrastructure and fund research much more than it is currently been done in the country because problems like COVID-19 may still come in the future, so we must strengthen our institutions, empower our scientists, so that when there is a problem like this they will be up to the task, so eventually we may be able to in-house develop a COVID-19 vaccine but it can’t be as fast as it is done in other advanced countries but of course technology can aid in making it more rapid that we ever expected.

Is the COVID-19 Vaccine safe and potent?

When you have a higher number of population of people being vaccinated, at least 70 per cent of people are protected in the population, the virus will die out or it will have no new host to infect and so there will be a herd immunity and the population will be protected, so the least we want for most of these vaccine is to give a potency of 70 per cent and as far as the whole of the population can be protected up to 70 per cent the chances of COVID 19 spreading within the population is reduced, in terms of such potency, it varies, but so far what they have presented is good enough, there are more studies going on to know how long the antibodies will remain in the body before they will need a booster immunity and science also reviews itself, science does not claim it has found a cure or a solution that cannot be reviewed.

And then in terms of safety, I told you I have taken the vaccine, and a couple of my friends have also taken the vaccines.

Did you react to the dose?

Apart from the pain I had on the injection side for like three days, I didn’t have any other reaction, but some of my friends said they had fever, and nausea feeling, it is nothing unusual from the regular most of the time. It is a function of our body constitution, the way we react is different, and so it is within the range that is considered normal. Even with this vaccine, they have said may be it is not for everybody, probably if you have particular condition you may not have to take the vaccine but in the long run, the idea is that it is safer to take the vaccine than not take the vaccine because most people who take the vaccine will develop antibodies that will be able to restrict infection than people who may not take the vaccine, who I may consider as naïve population at the end of the day they have encounter the virus which may cause calamity.

There seems to be division within the science community; some medics in the US have questioned the COVID-19 vaccine; saying it contains sterile components and may reduce world population, what do you say to that as a scientist and someone who is working on vaccines?

The first thing to say is that it is healthy for scientists to disagree, we don’t all have to agree, that is why we have peer review, science grows by critic, even after your research, you have colleagues who have better ways of doing the research, so it is normal in the science community. So for those who think that there are chips and sterile components in the vaccine, one of the things they have failed to do if they are truly scientists is to show us the data, what research have they done? they can share the data, they can present it and when it comes to peer review, when it is identified that way, even me, I will believe that this component intentionally or not intentionally became part of the vaccine so to rely on theories and hypothesis is not scientific, you have to bring up data, it is the data that speaks.

Now that we have been told to take the vaccine, why must we still continue the social distancing, mask wearing and all other COVID-19 protocols laid out?

I was reading in the news that of all countries in the world, it is Israel that has the highest rate of population that has been vaccinated, so what they did is to lower the use of face mask in the public, so if you are in Israel today you probably will not need to use face mask in the public because more than 70 per cent of their population have been vaccinated and they have also seen in their data that the rate of infection and the rate of death due to COVID 19 has drastically dropped, so until every other country get to that level, we would need to still continue with all the COVID 19 rules, because in Nigeria for instance we have only succeeded in vaccinating a fraction, only a small fraction of the population, even with the first dose, not even the second dose, so we are still a long way far from attaining the 70% herd immunity level that is required.

What is your counsel to the section of the population, especially the faith-based population who are highly suspicious of the vaccine, do you think if the vaccines were developed by Nigerian scientists, there could be a different response?

Maybe, maybe not, it may not be entirely so, ignorance is one of the bane in Nigeria, we are too superstitious in Africa to certain degree, adding to that, the way we practice our faith in terms of what we believe and how religion affect our life also have impact on the decision and our response. So even if the vaccine was developed by Nigerian scientist it will still not change the attitude of some people, But I think we need to do more, we need to get people to understand, particularly within the science community, we need to have a conversation with the public to make them understand what the process is all about, I think if people know more their faith will be strengthened.

Can we say in specific terms, that the COVID -19 vaccine is different in process, in character or activity from the polio vaccine?

Yes it is, the polio vaccine is still like the whole organism kind of vaccine, the whole organism in the sense that you have to isolate the virus, then you deactivate the virus; it can no longer cause disease but it can stimulate antibody production that will be able to neutralize the virus, however there has been so much technological advancement that hastens the process of vaccines production, that was why I said the COVID 19 vaccine is faster in its development. The AstraZeneca vaccine is a vector vaccine, a vector and subjugate vaccine in the sense that it is not the whole organism of corona virus that is taken, it is a portion of the virus that is taken to a vector, another virus that is not pathogenic, that virus can still replicate, that is the process of AstraZeneca, meanwhile there are other higher technology for vaccine production, called the DNA technology and that is what the Pfizer and Modena brand, they went deeper to take more refined aspect of the virus, which is the RNA, the MRNA, so for me if you draw a line from 1 to 10 in terms of refining, then you say the polio vaccine is around 3, the AstraZeneca vaccine is around 7 and then the Pfizer and Modena brand is like 8 to 9 in terms of refinement, so you are taking the finest particle aspect of this organism to make vaccine.

Can you speak to the controversy about the AstraZeneca vaccine, why don’t we have the Pfizer vaccines in Africa; does it have to do with cost?

Yes, it has to do with costs and handling, even the cooling capacity is lacking in Africa, for instance you need an ultra low cooling facility like -80, there are few places in Nigeria for such -80 cooling system, meanwhile the AstraZeneca vaccine can be held for storage at -20, that is the normal refrigerator temperature so it is the handling, so you can imagine if the Pfizer vaccine is brought to Nigeria and you don’t have the facilities to hold it, at the end of the day the whole vaccine will go bad, so it is related to cost and handling capacity.

I want you to categorically speak to the myths that this vaccine has got chips inside to monitor people, and have content that affect reproduction; can you say these vaccines are safe?

To assure you about the potency and give you the assurance that the vaccines are safe, I myself have taken the vaccine, the AstraZeneca vaccine because I am among the frontline health workers, in the sense that I am involved in the diagnoses and management of COVID 19, I go to the lab, I handle the virus, so as part of my protection, I have taken the vaccine and then talking of the potency, when the vaccine was developed by the company, Pfizer gave their rate as far as 95 per cent, none of them gave a 100 per cent potency.

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Christian Tientcha Happi, is a Professor of Molecular Biology and Genomics and the Director of African Centre of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases (ACEGID) at the Redeemers University. He has a BSc. in Biochemistry, MSc and PhD in Molecular Parasitology from the University of Ibadan in 1993, 1995 and 2000. He is one of the leading lights in the field of science in Africa and has carried out research with focus on Human Genomics, Molecular Biology and Genomics of Infectious Disease like Lassa Fever, Malaria and Ebola. His laboratory confirmed the first case of Ebola in Nigeria and he has been working diligently on helping to end the coronavirus pandemic in Nigeria by developing a rapid testing kit that could reveal the result in 15 minutes.

You have a lot of feathers in the scientific circle, can you establish your bonafides by telling us about your academic background?

My name is Professor Christian Tientcha Happi, a Professor of Molecular Biology and Genomics in the Department of Biological Sciences, and the Director African Center of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases (ACEGID), Redeemers University. I hold a BSc in Biochemistry, MSc and PhD in Molecular Parasitology from the University of Ibadan in 1993, 1995 and 2000 respectively. I did my post-doctoral research in Molecular Biology and Genomics at the Harvard University, School of Public Health, Boston, MA, USA (2000-2003). I’m currently the Director, Directorate of Research Innovations and Partnerships (DRIPs), Redeemers University.

What are your past and current research interests?

My research focus is on Human Genomics, Molecular Biology and Genomics of Infectious Diseases, especially Malaria, Viral Haemorrhagic Fevers (Lassa fever, Ebola Virus Disease, and others), and HIV.

My current research activities consist of using innovative approaches that combines patient care, fieldwork, laboratory, molecular biology and genomics methods for discoveries that have shifted the paradigm in clinical research and applications in parasites and viral diagnosis, parasites biology and genomics, Pharmacogenomics, and human genomics. In addition, I am passionate about building research capacity and human resource through training and mentoring activities.

Through my research, we have been able to identify molecular markers of antimalarial drug resistance in Plasmodium falciparum, the agent of malaria. We recently discovered new viruses (EKV-1 and EKV-2, and developed new rapid diagnoses for Ebola virus disease (EVD), and Lassa fever virus.

My laboratory confirmed the first case of Ebola Virus Disease in Nigeria in the 2014 Ebola outbreak, and work with Nigerian Health Officials for the successful containment of the Ebola outbreak in Nigeria.

Research work in my laboratory contributed significantly to the establishment of the global reference for human genetic variation. Our research work has also resulted in identification of new genes associated with human resistance to infection of Lassa fever virus.

I have been working in the space of infection diseases in the past 22 years, across West Africa and on Lassa fever, Ebola, monkey pox, yellow fever and coronavirus.

What is the idea behind the creation of the African Centre of Excellence for Genomic Infectious Diseases and what have you achieved since its creation?

The genomic works that I have been doing over the past 12 years on haemorrhagic fever is mainly to understand the nature of the virus and leverage those information and translate it to tools like a point of care diagnostic, also things like a vaccine, we are also very much involved in capacity building, so we set up one of the best genomic platforms where we are training what we call a critical mass of young Africans.

So, the Africa Centre of Excellence for Genomic Infectious Diseases that I am the founder and Director is designed to create what we call academic and research environment that transcend national boundaries, where young Africans can actually use that platform to express their God-given talent and then use such platform to do genomics for public health, development of the continent so in so doing, we are basically focusing on training what we refer to as critical mass African scientists that can annex the knowledge and skill, tools of genomic to address problem of infectious disease and specifically control and elimination, eradiation of infectious disease. In addition to that we are building a new genomic curriculum that is applicable to infectious disease. Also we are engaging public health community in education.

That is what we have been doing in the past decade; overall our goal is basically to build the next generation of what is called African pathogen hunters, doing this in Africa, with Africa in collaboration with friends, colleague and partners outside, so that we can stop playing what I call orphans instead of defence. Because what we see today, is that anytime there is outbreak or epidemic of diseases somewhere the world start battling, but I think now we need to start thinking of how we can use the skill and knowledge that we have to start uncovering those virus and develop counter measures before they come to us.

That is the counter measure we are taking now and we are going to be leveraging on platform and skill, talent we are grooming.

You have done a lot in the area of the coronavirus pandemic, what has been your major contribution to the eradication of the pandemic?

We are able to develop one of the fastest rapid diagnostic test kit for covid-19 in the world, prior to that within five days or a week after the first case of covid was announced in Nigeria, we were able to come up with e-sub-screening test tools in Nigeria and link that up with other local governments and Yaba Hospital.

Then we went on to develop the rapid diagnostic test kit for covid, how did we do that? We did that because we were the lab that reconfirmed the very first case in Lagos that was tested by PCR, Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) sent the sample to us and we were able to confirm it.

We did that speedily. We set up the record that nobody is ever able to beat in the world, from sample collection to releasing of data on the international genomic platform call G-SET, it took us 72 hours. This process usually take weeks but we did it in 72 hours. And it is based on that particular sequence and other sequence that follow that we went on to develop the diagnose test kit.

This test kit is actually faster and cheaper, in which within 10 minutes to 15 minutes you will have the result. You don’t need to collect blood sample, just saliva and you don’t need specialized laboratory. It is the test that is most adopted for Africa because you don’t need high specialized laboratory.

It is just like pregnancy test, another thing is that it target the virus RNA and it is very precise and specific.

With so much talents in Africa, do you think we have enough support or research grants to enable scientists like yourself do more so the continent can be self-reliant in science?

I don’t think African countries see any value in research. African leaders promised that they are going to dedicate two percent of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) to support research but they are not doing it, except in Rwanda that is dedicating about 0.5 percent towards research. So that definitely is a problem, you cannot make progress, as a nation if you do not fund education and research and that is the reason Africa is over dependent on other countries for everything.

It’s evident even during this covid-19 as we are over dependent on international communities for everything from Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), to Vaccine, we are depending on the international community. Africa’s independence will only come when they invest in research and take responsibility for their problem and start to look inward in finding solution to their problems.

It is obvious that we are at the mercy of different countries basically we do not produce anything, we are basically consumers not producers, that puts us in a weak and vulnerable position. That is the fact we can’t shy away from. The truth of the matter is, as long as Africa does not invest in research and develop her own capacity and addresses her own problems, we will continue to be weak and exploited and at the back of the queue.

It is sad that Africa is still not prioritizing scientific research, but how can we use Research and Innovation address our developmental challenges in Africa?

The only way to do that is investment through the private sector and government establishment. Funding research is not only the responsibility of government, private sector also need to be involved but unfortunately in Africa, private sector investment is nothing on research. What you see in Africa is people that can invest in research refuse to do so, what they do is to go to Harvard or Cambridge to make donation, to institution where their money will not make any impact.

They ignore where they should put their money and go elsewhere because they have inferiority complex. If there is any lesson to learn I think they would have seen through this pandemic that it’s better to invest in your country than to go elsewhere because during the pandemic everybody was on lock down and they couldn’t fly around with private jet.

It’s clear that investment in research in Africa academic will be very helpful because Africa needs to develop. Secondly, when you look at Africa, one of the reasons Africa is stagnant is simply because there is no brain circulation in Africa. Knowledge in Africa is carnage, knowledge does not circulate in Africa. The reason why I’m saying this is because it’s a shame in Africa that we can’t have African research circulating moving from one country to another and sharing knowledge.

It is easier for an African to go to abroad to share knowledge than to share with an African counterpart.

There have been many controversies and conspiracy theories about the covid vaccine and reluctance to take it in Africa, how do you respond to this and what should we be doing as Nigerians?

Firstly, the COVID-19 vaccine is efficacious. And it has been demonstrated all over the world through people that take the vaccine, it protects them against the virus infection. The AstraZeneca vaccine that is in Nigeria, we should encourage people to take it.

I also understand the fears of the people because this vaccine is foreign so people are afraid. If anything to go by and African governments are listening, people in Africa are telling them that they don’t have confidence in vaccine that is coming from outside Africa. And the message is that fund vaccine that will emanate from Africa. I can tell you that Africans will be more comfortable if they hear that the vaccine emanated from Africa. I hope our government will listen to the masses.

The people are telling our leaders that they are tired of using imported things including vaccines and I am not against the vaccines because they are good and we should take it but the message is that we will trust vaccine made in Africa by our own researchers more than what is coming from outside.

That is why you are seeing vaccine resistance and apathy. People want to see what is made by their own people, so that they will be very comfortable to use it.

What do you say about the misconceptions on COVID-19?

Covid-19 is real, people should take necessary safety measures and if we did not respect the safety rules it will be difficult to get rid of this disease even if vaccine is given out. Even with availability of vaccine, people should continue to protect themselves.

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Professor Christian Tientcha Happi is a Professor of Molecular Biology and Genomics in the Department of Biological Sciences, and the Director African Center of Excellence for Genomics of Infectious Diseases (ACEGID), Redeemer’s University. He holds a BSc in Biochemistry, MSc and PhD in Molecular Parasitology from the University of Ibadan in 1993, 1995 and 2000 respectively.

He did his post-doctoral research in Molecular Biology and Genomics at Harvard University, School of Public Health, Boston, MA, USA (2000-2003). He is currently the Director, Directorate of Research Innovations and Partnerships (DRIPs), Redeemer’s University. He has carried out research focus on Human Genomics, Molecular Biology and Genomics of Infectious Diseases, especially Malaria, Viral Haemorrhagic Fevers (Lassa fever, Ebola Virus Disease, and HIV among others. His laboratory confirmed the first case of Ebola Virus Disease in Nigeria in the 2014 Ebola outbreak, and work with Nigerian Health Officials for the successful containment of the Ebola outbreak in Nigeria. In this interview with JIMOH BABATUNDE, he talked about how they developed the rapid diagnostic test kit for covid, which can give result within 10 minutes to 15 minutes. He also talked about the need to encourage Nigerians to be vaccinated because the COVID-19 vaccine is efficacious and that it has been demonstrated all over the world that people that take the vaccine, protect themselves against the virus infection. Here is an excerpt from the interview.

Current Research Interest

My research focus is on Human Genomics, Molecular Biology and Genomics of Infectious Diseases, especially Malaria, Viral Haemorrhagic Fevers (Lassa fever, Ebola Virus Disease, and others), and HIV. My current research activities consist of using innovative approaches that combine patient care, fieldwork, laboratory, molecular biology and genomics methods for discoveries that have shifted the paradigm in clinical research and applications in parasites and viral diagnosis, parasites biology and genomics, Pharmacogenomics, and human genomics. Also, I am passionate about building research capacity and human resource through training and mentoring activities. Through my research, we have been able to identify molecular markers of antimalarial drug resistance in Plasmodium falciparum, the agent of malaria. We recently discovered new viruses (EKV-1 and EKV-2 and developed new rapid diagnoses for Ebola virus disease (EVD), and Lassa fever virus. My laboratory confirmed the first case of Ebola Virus Disease in Nigeria in the 2014 Ebola outbreak, and work with Nigerian Health Officials for the successful containment of the Ebola outbreak in Nigeria. Research work in my laboratory contributed significantly to the establishment of the global reference for human genetic variation.

Our research work has also resulted in the identification of new genes associated with human resistance to infection to the Lassa fever virus. I have been working in the space of infectious diseases in the past 22 years, across west Africa Lassa fever, ebola, monkeypox, yellow fever and covid. The genomic works that I have been doing over the past 12 years hemorrhagic fever is mainly to understand the nature of the virus and leverage those information and translate it to tools like a point of care diagnostic, also things like a vaccine, we are also very much involved in capacity building, so we set up one of the best genomic platforms where we are training what we call a critical mass of young Africans so Africa Centre of Excellence for Genomic infectious diseases that I am the founder and director, is to create what we call academic and research environment that transcend national boundaries, where young Africans can actually use that platform to express their God-given talent and then use such platform to do genomics for public health, development of the continent so in so doing, we are basically focusing on training what we refer to as critical mass African scientists that can annex the knowledge and skill, tools of genomics to address problem of infectious disease and specifically control and elimination, eradication of infectious disease. In addition to that, we are building a new genomic curriculum that applies to infectious disease. Also, we are engaging the public health community in education. That is what we have been doing in the past decade; overall our goal is basically to build the next generation of what is called African pathogen hunters, doing this in Africa, with Africa in collaboration with friends, colleague and partners outside so that we can stop playing what I call orphans instead of defence. Because what we see today, is that anytime there is an outbreak or epidemic of diseases somewhere the world start battling, but I think now we need to start thinking of how we can use the skill and knowledge that we have to start uncovering those viruses and develop countermeasures before they come to us. That is the countermeasure we are taking now and we are going to be leveraging on platform and skill, the talent we are grooming.

Fast track test kit for covid-19?

We can develop one of the fastest rapid diagnostic test kits for covid-19 in the world, before that we did something five days or within a week after the first case of covid was announced in Nigeria, we can come up with e-sub-screening test tools in Nigeria and link that up with other local government and Yaba Hospital. Then we went on to develop the rapid diagnostic test kit for covid, how did we do that? We did that because we were the lab that reconfirmed the very first case in Lagos that was tested by PCR, NCDC sent the sample to us and we can confirm it. We did that speedily. We set up the record that nobody is ever able to beat in the world, from sample collection to releasing data on the international genomic platform call G-SET, it took us 72 hours. This process usually takes weeks but we did it in 72 hours. And it is base on that particular sequence and other sequences that follow that we went on to develop diagnose test kit. This test kit is faster and cheaper, in which within 10 minutes to 15 minutes you will have the result. You don’t need to collect a blood sample, just saliva and you don’t need a specialized laboratory. It is the test that is mostly adopted for Africa because you don’t need a highly specialized lab. It is just like a pregnancy test, another thing is that it targets the virus RNA and it is very precise and specific.

Research funding in Africa?

I don’t think African countries see any value in research, African leaders promised that they are going to dedicate 2 per cent of their GDP to support research but they are not doing it only a few countries like Rwanda are dedicating about 0.5 per cent towards research. So that is a problem, you can not make progress, as a nation if you do not fund education and research and that is the reason Africa is over-dependent on other countries for everything. It’s evident even during this covid-19 when we over-dependent on international communities for everything from PPE, to Vaccine, we are depending on international communities. Africa’s independence will only come when they invest in research and take responsibility for their problem and when they start to look inward in finding a solution to their problems.


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