First annual international conference for major initiative to develop African science academies

11/04/05

NAIROBI, Kenya -- More than 200 leading scientists and policy-makers, primarily from Africa, will gather in Nairobi on Monday for the first annual international conference of the African Science Academy Development Initiative (ASADI), a groundbreaking effort to strengthen African academies' ability to inform government policy-making and public discourse with independent, evidence-based advice. The initiative -- supported by a $20 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and administered by the U.S. National Academies -- will be carried out over the next decade, focusing on efforts to improve human health in Africa.

The theme of the two-day conference is harnessing the scientific and technological capacity of African science academies to help government leaders across the continent fulfill their commitments to the United Nations' Millennium Development Goals in areas such as maternal and child health, disease prevention, and the eradication of extreme poverty and hunger. Participants also will explore ways to engage broader communities of African scientists, engineers, and medical professionals in policy issues -- and to build mutually beneficial relationships between these groups and government authorities in their countries. Three former U.S. government administrators will be on hand to discuss their experiences with the U.S. National Academies' process of convening expert panels to examine the science base underlying policy issues and make recommendations for action.

The conference will feature a speech by Olusegun Obasanjo, president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and of the African Union, as well as a presentation by Lee Yee-Cheong, coordinator of the U.N. Millennium Project Task Force on Science, Technology, and Innovation, and president of the World Federation of Engineering Organizations. Panel discussions among prominent African scientists, policy-makers, presidential appointees, and other government leaders will also take place.

On the whole, Africa's science and technology enterprise is limited. Moreover, S&T knowledge in academia and industry in many African countries is disconnected from decision-making -- reducing the research community's opportunities to contribute to policy improvements that would benefit the public at large, conference organizers said. Stronger science academies can contribute positively toward measures that will save lives or improve living conditions by settling key questions on topics such as malaria prevention, sustainable development, or agricultural production.

"This conference will form a sound base for promoting international scientific collaboration, especially among science academies from Africa," said professor Isaac O. Nyambok, coordinator, Science and Technology Park, University of Nairobi, and chair of the organizing committee for the conference. "Our goals are to enhance our capacity to positively and consistently contribute to change, and to raise the voice of science in African policy-making. African scientists have much to contribute to the well-being of their nations; their active engagement with policy-makers is essential." The Kenya National Academy of Sciences (KNAS) and the regional African Academy of Sciences (AAS) are co-hosting the conference at the InterContinental Nairobi.

After a comprehensive application process, the science academies of Nigeria, Uganda, and South Africa were chosen as the initial focal points for the initiative, which was established last year. Some of the preliminary activities involve helping these academies hire and train staff members, implement administrative procedures, manage finances, conduct scientific studies, and organize forums and major meetings. After the partner academies gain in-depth experience and advanced management skills, the initiative calls for them to raise matching funds and eventually conduct independent advisory activities.

In addition, seed money for strategic planning will be given to the science academies of Cameroon, Senegal, Ghana, and Kenya, as well as the AAS. The effort also will support a series of annual meetings to encourage collaboration and joint learning among some of sub-Saharan Africa's academies.

"Scientifically sound policy-making is a necessary component of good governance," said former U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher, a conference participant and member of the U.S. National Academies' governing board for ASADI. "This initiative to help develop African science academies so that they can better inform policy is unparalleled. And given the socio-economic, health, and educational challenges facing the continent, the effort is urgently needed. The close partnership between the U.S. and African academies reflects our commitment to science in the public interest."

Major development institutions and countries around the world have accepted the U.N. Millennium Development Goals as blueprints for action to meet the needs of the world's poorest people. The goals range from cutting rates of extreme poverty by 50 percent to providing universal primary education, all by the target date of 2015. To this end, African science academies can provide reliable and politically neutral scientific advice.

Source: Eurekalert & others

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