Towards “Fair” Global Research Collaboration
Global challenges are linked
Donors, policy-makers, researchers and community workers in the health domain have focused for decades primarily on infectious diseases. This is because these illnesses tend to show immediate impediments to human development, in turn affecting a country’s socio-economic development.
However, there is a rising international consensus that non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as cancer, diabetes or poor mental health, require as much attention as infectious diseases. Although the prevalence of NCDs in Europe remains higher than in Asia or Africa, the social and economic burden of these pathologies is heavy in many low- and middle-income countries (LMICs).
Both the scientific literature and more mainstream media channels are flooded with reports about the link between urbanisation and climate change, the rising patterns of NCDs as a result of increased air pollution, heat stress, increased exposure to solar radiation, and drought or flooding, and their direct or indirect effects on respiratory health, mental health, nutrition, the immune system, or the cardiovascular system. Unhealthy societies and poor nutrition are outcomes of neglecting climate change conditions.
Because the problems are so closely connected, the dichotomy of tackling global health and climate change separately needs re-thinking. Any policy confusion needs to be clarified both in HICs and LMICs and research agendas in these countries also need to better reflect this nexus.
International research collaboration works, but it must be “fair”
The panel found that there are many drivers of international research collaboration. By working together, researchers from the North and the South can better influence national and international research policies, said Jean-Michel Sers, European Affairs Coordinator at the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development (CIRAD).
Deputy-Director for Science and Technology Collaboration from the Kenyan Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, Dr Eric Mwangi, highlighted that reliance on Northern partner support is not only determined by an agenda but also by the lack of high-tech advanced labs and inadequate national funding prevailing in LMICs.
But, the challenges of international collaboration are numerous, said panellist Mike Kachedwa, who is Chief Research Officer at the National Commission for Science & Technology in Malawi. “Benefit sharing becomes quite problematic in research collaboration that includes partners from North and South. It may provide far too little benefit when risks are too high or sometimes benefits to sponsors are great.” He added: “Nevertheless, international research partnerships enhance conducive framework conditions and strengthen institutional research and innovation capacities in LMICs.’’
The panel concluded that these so-called framework conditions, particularly in LMICs, are often not conducive to effective cooperation. Low research budgets, temporary contracts, poor career perspectives, limited access to knowledge and to published data, lack of technology, difficulty translating research results, and complicated bureaucracy are just some of barriers LMIC researchers face.
The panel found external pressure applied when the research data discloses information that can compromise economic or political interests as a particular concern, for example when findings show the contamination of fisheries by metals or antibiotics.
The 2015 Global Forum on Research and Innovation for Health follows on from the Global Forum for Health Research, held in 2012 in South Africa. While in the past the forum focused on health research, nowadays it is the utilisation of results for innovation and evidence-based polices that occupies centre stage. By linking global challenges to international cooperation, governments and research institutions need to enhance research conditions so as to be conducive for academia and the private sector and which in the long-term would also contribute to economic growth in low-and middle-income countries.
*The panel discussion was jointly sponsored by the CAAST-Net Plus and SEA-EU NET projects. Both are funded by the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme for Research, Technological Development and Demonstration.
*This article first appeared in the CAAST-Net Plus Magazine of December 2015.
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