Call for greater involvement of developing world scientists in fight against AIDS

07/08/04

Joint statement by Third World Academy of Sciences and African Academy of Sciences

During the past two decades, HIV/AIDS has had a devastating impact on the health and social and economic well-being of populations in many parts of the developing world. In 2003 alone, the disease caused the death of more than three million people, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa.

Despite the best efforts of some of the world's most prominent scientists, a vaccine that would protect against the disease is still a long way from reality. Drugs that help fight the virus and alleviate the disease symptoms are available, but are expensive and unavailable to many sufferers living in the world's developing countries. In addition, many countries are still failing to tackle the social issues that lead to the further spread of the disease.

Against this background, and on the eve of AIDS 2004, the XV International AIDS Conference in Bangkok, Thailand, the Third World Academy of Sciences (TWAS) and the African Academy of Sciences (AAS) have issued a Joint statement on HIV/AIDS in the developing world, calling for greater involvement of developing world scientists in research initiatives designed to treat and mitigate the disease. Both organizations are particularly keen to enlist African scientists in this campaign.

Specifically, TWAS and AAS believe that the discovery and development of new drugs and vaccines to combat HIV/AIDS should also be conducted through South-South collaboration, using the expertise present in the many centres of scientific excellence in the developing world.

"Such a programme of support would not only allow the enormous potential of developing countries' flora and fauna to be investigated for novel pharmaceutical products, but would also help stem the 'brain drain' a major problem for the development of scientific capacity in the South, and especially in sub-Saharan Africa," says Gideon Okelo, Professor of Medicine at the University of Nairobi, Kenya, and AAS Secretary General and Executive Director.

"It would also offer potential avenues of investigation that have yet to be explored because of the dominance of Northern scientists in the design and implementation of AIDS-related research," says Ahmed A. Azad, Director of Research at the Faulty of Health Sciences, University of Cape Town, South Africa.

Azad and Okelo, both of whom are TWAS fellows, were the two lead authors of the TWAS/AAS joint statement, which has been approved by the TWAS Council and AAS Governing Council.

Founded in 1983 by the Nobel Prize-winning Pakistani physicist Abdus Salam, TWAS counts more than 700 eminent scientists among its membership, most of whom are working in developing countries. Among the main aims of the Academy is to help build the scientific and technological capacities of developing countries as a means to promoting sustainable economic development. TWAS is headquartered in Trieste, Italy.

AAS was established in 1985 as a non-profit organization of scientists with the aim of developing into a continent-wide forum to champion science-led development in Africa. Headquartered in Nairobi, Kenya, it has a current membership of more than 130.

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