The third edition of the UNESCO-Merck Africa Research Summit – MARS 2017 was held in Mauritius on November 28, 2017. The summit attracted about 200 African researchers representing the whole continent and hosted two ministerial panel discussions with the participation of over 30 African Ministers of Science, Education, Gender and Health, on better harmonization of life science research between the different stakeholders in the public and private sector.
Ashveena Gajeelee, program fellow at Global Access in Action (GAiA) presented GAiA’s ongoing projects that seek to expand access to lifesaving medicines in the world’s most vulnerable populations. Those projects include proposing best practices for pricing policies and alternative R&D incentive structures in the pharmaceutical industry, and working on international policies related to pandemic preparedness in collaboration with Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI).
One of the key projects elaborated on by Ashveena was the development of the Southern Africa Quality Assurance Network (SAQAN), which aims to expand access to quality-assured medicines in sub-Saharan Africa. GAiA is assisting several African governments in implementing a multifaceted pilot program in sub-Saharan Africa by providing technical advice to local governments on public health-sensitive legal, policy, and regulatory reform. As part of this program, GAiA is working with Global Good to demonstrate a new technology that would require the building of a database from a mini mass spectrometer, which would allow drug quality monitoring systems to reduce morbidity and mortality associated with treatment failure from the use of counterfeit medicines. Ashveena explained while the project started in Namibia, GAiA is hoping to reproduce the model in additional Sub-Saharan African countries through working with local stakeholders to develop a tailor-made regulatory framework. This framework will enable an environment where manufacturing and quality control of medicines as well as the use of innovative healthcare technology will be tightly regulated. SAQAN will allow database from participating countries to be gathered and shared in a collective effort to fight the use of sub-standard medicines and its transactions across borders.
Many participants highlighted the difficulty in fighting counterfeit medicines in African countries and had inquiries about the new technology being tested by GAiA and Global Good. Other questions pertained to the impact of regulation on healthcare and what could countries do better to share their research.
The main partners of this Summit are the MERCK Foundation, African Union, the World Health Organization, the University of Cambridge UK and the Government of Mauritius, showing the importance of taking action at global level in order to support the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
The 3rd edition of the UNESCO-MERCK Africa Research Summit (UNESCO-MARS) consolidates the cooperation between UNESCO and Merck Foundation. The two organizations joined hands again to respond to Africa’s STISA 2024, reinforcing the axiom that only through building local capacities can Africa rise again to becoming an equal partner in advancing STEM research and education.
The summit has become a platform for young African researchers and scientists to share their work, as well as an opportunity to address Africa’s most significant obstacles in scientific research. Policy makers, ambassadors, academics and NGO representatives comprise the heterogeneous audience; this interaction between different actors catalyzes the aim to support Africa in becoming a hub for scientific excellence and technological innovation and to bridge the gap between investigators and policy makers.
Ashveena Gajeelee is a research fellow at Global Access in Action (GAiA). She specializes in public policy and is experienced in government and regulatory affairs.