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Fall/Winter 2010 Vol. 10 Number 3



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COLLABORATIONS

Academies Take Aim at Africa's Afflictions

The commitment of the U.S. National Academies to address issues beyond its own national borders was highlighted by activities last fall that targeted two of the most daunting and distressing challenges in sub-Saharan Africa: access to energy and the fight against HIV/AIDS.

Participants at the sixth annual conference of the African Science Academy Development Initiative, held in South Africa, photos by Bill Kearney Participants at the sixth annual conference of the African Science Academy Development Initiative, held in South Africa, photos by Bill Kearney Participants at the sixth annual conference of the African Science Academy Development Initiative, held in South Africa, photos by Bill Kearney

The energy issue was the focus of the sixth annual conference of the African Science Academy Development Initiative (ASADI), a collaboration administered by the U.S. National Academies aimed at boosting the capacity of several African science academies to inform policymaking through evidence-based advice. The Academy of Science of South Africa, which hosted the November conference outside of Cape Town, unveiled a new report at the meeting that illuminates how much of sub-Saharan Africa is still in the dark. Almost 600 million people -- about 70 percent of the population -- live without access to electricity; in fact, the entire installed power capacity of sub-Saharan Africa is equal to about that of Spain.

The report, prepared with input from several African science academies, calls for energy access to be added to the list of the U.N. Millennium Development Goals, noting that none of the current goals is achievable without greater availability of energy. The report says that achieving universal electricity access will require an extension of national grids and installation of mini-grids and off-grid isolated systems. More investment will also be needed to take advantage of energy solutions that can be provided by science, especially renewable energy ideas. In a keynote address, the South African minister of science and technology, Naledi Pandor, applauded the report and conference for "improving the synergy between scientific research and policy implementation."

Cover of the report Preparing for the Future of HIV/AIDS in Africa: A Shared Responsibility

Advice from the scientific community will also be critical for policymakers in sub-Saharan Africa who will have to make tough decisions about who can receive lifesaving antiretroviral therapy as the pace of newly infected HIV/AIDS patients there far outstrips the capacity to treat them, according to projections in a new report by the U.S. Institute of Medicine. The report estimates that the number of Africans with HIV/AIDS will climb by about a third to more than 30 million by 2020. Twelve million of them will require antiretroviral therapy, but there will only be sufficient resources to treat 7 million. Given that only a fraction can be treated, a stronger emphasis needs to be placed on prevention, the report says.

The lack of treatment capacity is about more than just the availability of drugs, the report emphasizes. There are not enough trained health workers in many African countries to deliver treatment even when the drugs are on hand. "Health centers are increasingly turning away patients who need these drugs to survive," said David Serwadda, professor and former dean of the School of Public Health at Makerere University, Kampala, Uganda, and co-chair of the committee that wrote the report. The committee included experts from the U.S. and Africa, who urged their respective governments to share responsibility in the fight against HIV/AIDS by collaborating on long-term planning and entering into contracts with incentives that spur investments in effective interventions. Work-force training, health care infrastructure, and ethical decision making need to be part of the plans, the committee said. --  William Kearney

More information on ASADI and the report Turning Science On: Improving Access to Energy in Sub-Saharan Africa are available online. ASADI is sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.


Preparing for the Future of HIV/AIDS in Africa: A Shared Responsibility. Committee on Envisioning a Strategy to Prepare for the Long-Term Burden of HIV/AIDS: African Needs and U.S. Interests, Board on Global Health, Institute of Medicine (2010, 220 pp.; ISBN 0-309-16018-9; available from the National Academies Press, tel. 1-800-624-6242; $48.00 plus $5.00 shipping for single copies).

The committee was co-chaired by Serwadda and Thomas C. Quinn, associate director for international research at the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases of the U.S. National Institutes of Health, and director, Center for Global Health, Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore. The study was sponsored by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation; Atlantic Philanthropies; (BD) Becton, Dickinson, and Co.; Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; Carnegie Corporation of New York; Ford Foundation; Institute of International Education; Johnson & Johnson Services; Merck; Pfizer; and the Rockefeller Foundation.


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