Call to improve science infrastructure

UCT researcher and director of Africas only integrated Drug Discovery and Development Centre, Professor Kelly Chibale, speaks at the fifth Science in Africa UnConference in London.

A lack of funding and infrastructure is to blame for a brain drain of Africa’s scientists, a UCT researcher has warned.

Professor Kelly Chibale addressed the issue at the fifth Science in Africa UnConference in London, on Thursday July 20.

Professor Chibale is the director of Africa’s only integrated Drug Discovery and Development Centre (H3D), which is based at UCT.

He said scientists needed to be funded to succeed rather than just survive, as many PhD graduates needed career opportunities and the necessary infrastructure required to put their training to work. “Many science graduates in Africa are unemployed and the situation is getting worse. Those who can successfully opt to find science jobs overseas do so. Emphasising postgraduate training without coupling it to career opportunities would merely serve to worsen unemployment and make science even more unattractive as a career option.

“Without world-class infrastructure we cannot achieve scientific independence for Africa or use science for development. Without world-class infrastructure scientists cannot put their training to work. A lack of world-class infrastructure is a major contributor to the brain drain.”

He suggested that funds allocated for doctoral students be diverted away from student training programmes and be invested in scientific job creation. H3D focuses on communicable diseases. It has a medicinal chemistry lab and a new drug metabolism and pharmacokinetics (DMPK) lab.

Professor Chibale said it was an example of what was possible when investment was made in infrastructure. The centre has grown since its opening in 2011 to work more effectively on research such as a single-dose cure for malaria which kills more than 1 200 people a day. Its search on malaria has generated global interest.

Prof Chibale’s call for funding was aimed at both private investors and governments.

“The role of government is to provide an enabling environment, including world-class infrastructure, to unlock potential and create high-value jobs with involvement of the private sector,” he said.

“We need to pro-actively seek out and nurture existing excellence in Africa that are both scientifically outstanding and entrepreneurial.”