Durban - While several African countries have invested in a growing pipeline of high-impact, cost-effective innovations for healthcare, the innovations were largely reliant on foreign investments, according to Craig Friderichs, a country director of international health NGO PATH.

In comments ahead of the World Economic Forum (WEF) on Africa, which starts in Durban on Wednesday, Friderichs said that despite commitments from governments, funding and implementation of policies had lagged.

“That’s why PATH has brought together a multi-sector group of partners, including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, LeapFrog Investments, the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad) Agency, and the Welcome Trust, to host the Innovation Effect Summit alongside WEF Africa. “We have leaders from across geographies and sectors coming together to celebrate African innovation and discuss collaborative ways to further reduce the constraints for high impact health technologies,” said Friderichs.

Governments across Africa had endorsed ambitious plans to invest in local science, technology and innovation.

“For example, the South African government has invested a greater percentage of its gross domestic product (GDP) in global health (health and development) than many of its European counterparts.

“Through programmes like the Strategic Health Innovation Partnerships, South Africa is establishing platforms that enable local innovators to translate ideas into solutions. The important part now is ensuring these commitments translate into funds allocated and policies implemented,” said Friderichs.

He said many countries across Africa realised the need for partnerships, citing South Africa and Kenya. South Africa was leading the way in HIV/Aids research, and the two countries had made advances in treating HIV/Aids and co-infections such as TB.

“With the right steps forward, it is possible that a ‘leapfrogging technology’ - one that results in a rapid change in health for entire populations - or even a cure for diseases like HIV would come from laboratories in Africa. “African innovation and research capacity is expanding in game-changing ways. Thanks to increased commitments, there is an ever growing pipeline of high-impact, cost-effective innovations for health.

“These innovations have a huge potential impact across the continent,” said Friderichs.

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The time was ripe to advance science, technology and innovation in Africa, with strong political will.

He said African heads of state had signed on to the African Union’s Science, Technology & Innovation Strategy for Africa 2024, with many African governments making commitments to increase funding.

“New partnerships have also formed to bring together a variety of sectors. “For example, at the World Economic Forum in Davos earlier this year, an alliance of African science leaders and international funders established the Coalition for African Research and Innovation, designed to build a co-ordinated, well-funded and innovative African R&D community.

“New sources of funding are also becoming available from the government, private investors and philanthropists,” said Friderichs. Certain health needs required new technologies. It was necessary to adapt existing technologies to make them more affordable. For instance, South African manufacturer Sinapi Biomedical was adapting a low-cost device to stop severe bleeding after childbirth and preventing mothers from dying.

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