Each reaching a milestone anniversary of its own, the African Science Academy Development Initiative (ASADI) held its fifth annual conference in Accra, Ghana, hosted by the 50-year-old Ghana Academy of Arts and Sciences. ASADI also celebrated the release of an important new report on ways to reduce staggering rates of maternal, newborn, and child mortality across Africa.
Authored by representatives of the seven African science academies that participate in ASADI and a team of 60 experts they assembled, the report documents how scaling up proven health care interventions could save the lives of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of mothers and children.
The authors titled the report Science in Action to emphasize the impact that scientific findings could have if their application were accelerated. Harnessing the latest science through reports such as this, so that it can be employed by policymakers, is the goal of ASADI.
The U.N. Millennium Development Goals aim to reduce under-five mortality by two-thirds and maternal mortality by three-fourths by 2015. The report notes pockets of improvement in maternal and child health in sub-Saharan Africa -- where half of the world's 10 million maternal and child deaths each year occur -- but says most countries are not on track to meet the U.N. goals.
"There is clear evidence that progress can be achieved, however many African governments are not yet fully exploiting existing scientific knowledge," said former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan in a video message delivered at the conference. "National academies of science have an important role to play by sharing the best knowledge and engaging policymakers more actively to help African governments translate evidence-based science into appropriate policies."
The report authors used modeling software called the Lives Saved Tool to analyze the impact of increasing coverage of interventions essential to maternal, newborn, and child health. Under a scenario where coverage of essential interventions reached 90 percent of mothers and children under 5 years old by 2015, the model suggests that almost 4 million lives could be saved annually in sub-Saharan Africa. Another scenario showed that 770,000 lives could be saved annually in nine countries if essential care were provided for all births that take place in facilities and if coverage of select interventions provided outside facilities were increased by just 20 percent within two years. The report says priority interventions are "extremely affordable" on a per capita basis, noting that the cost of increasing the interventions used in the nine-country example is less than $2 per capita.
The report was supported by the U.S. National Academies; Save the Children; the Academy of Sciences of South Africa; Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health; Mars Inc.; and UNICEF. The report and videos by Annan and other science and health leaders, including NAS President Ralph J. Cicerone and IOM President Harvey V. Fineberg, are available at <national-academies.org/asadi>. ASADI is administered by the U.S. National Academies and supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. — Bill Kearney