Malaria research is the richest seam in Africa's otherwise impoverished biomedical science output, according to a new report from the Wellcome Trust. But the first detailed assessment of the state of malaria research in the continent that is home to 90% of the world's malaria deaths holds few other comforts.
Seventeen percent of the malaria papers on the Science Citation Index and Medline databases have an African address—in stark contrast to biomedical papers overall, where only 1.2% come from Africa. Collaboration with industrialized countries is strong—almost four of five African malaria papers (79%) involve authors from Europe and the US, and 88% of grants listed by African laboratories between 1993 and 1998 were from outside Africa. However, there are few collaborations between African institutions.
The report from the Wellcome Trust is part of the Multilateral Initiative on Malaria (MIM; see main story). It was intended as a baseline assessment of research capacity in Africa so that potential links could be identified and efforts to improve research and training there—one of the MIM's goals—could be evaluated.
It points to "a number of areas of weakness in current international research training activities," which remain a poor relation in malaria programs. Training is provided largely outside Africa, is fragmented and inadequately monitored. The report calls for more investment in African training centers.
Carlos Morel, head of the Special Programme for Research and Training in Tropical Diseases, a United Nations-funded program based at the World Health Organization, which spends a quarter of its US$28 million annual budget on training, insists there have been improvements in the past two years. During the period of 1997–1998, the proportion of the budget spent on training rose to 34% with the establishment of a MIM task force for research capacity building in Africa. For all areas funded under the task force, "local or regional training has increased from 31% [before 1996] to 65%," he says. And research groups have been established in several of the poorest countries, including Uganda, Benin and Mali.
The report, "Strengthening Health Research in the Developing World: Malaria research capacity in Africa" is available at http://www.wellcome.ac.uk/publications
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Brown, P. Wellcome reports on malaria research in Africa. Nat Med 5, 1335 (1999). https://doi.org/10.1038/70884