WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus commenting on the Ebola spread in DR Congo laments that “Just when we start to get control of the virus in one area, it appears in another.” This explains the dilemma of infectious diseases in Africa. Infectious diseases account for about one quarter of deaths worldwide, causing at least 10 million deaths per year, mainly in the tropical countries. They are a high burden on public health and country economies. Their origin is generally connected to social and economic conditions as well as environmental and ecologic factors.
Africa, a victim of such diseases experiences difficulties with morbidity surveillance and ranks among the lowest in per-capita spending on health and the availability of physicians. Africa’s commitment to health and research will be of little meaning as long as research is not translated to productive use. Africa faces a huge challenge in so far as its infrastructure is concerned for commercialisation of health research findings. To start with, the continent’s health researchers lack the right and modern laboratories to undertake advanced research. One of the reasons for the brain drain involving the best and the brightest in the African health sector is lack of state of the art facilities for clinical and health research work. These shortfalls partly explain why Africa only produces 1.5% of the world’s scientific knowledge measured by articles published in peer reviewed international journals. In turn, Africa produces even fewer of the world’s patents, which is the best measure of product innovation. The poor scientific performance is also explained by the weak links between African Universities, research centres and industry.
Africa faces a number of challenges of a political, social, economic and, now, increasingly, of an environmental and climate change nature. One of these serious challenges is the health of millions of its citizens. It is a challenge that is part of a larger conundrum that should be addressed from a broader social and economic context.