Alagi Yorro Jallow
Fatoumatta: Africa’s commitment to take charge of its affairs for a brighter economic future in science, technology, and innovation as a social good for development and strengthening the science and technology capacity role of scientific leadership an imperative in international development by investing in knowledge and research development sends a poor signal that Africa has not come out of age and takes her primary responsibility development destiny.
African countries, either as separate entities or in some form of regional or pan-Africa collaboration, should follow the Republic of Cuba and Russia’s examples.
Africans must learn that those who solve global problems, such as Covid-19 or Ebola, will always do so for self-interest. They will determine who gets the solution first or last and at what price. Furthermore, because the solution’s design is foreign, Africa will not have the opportunity to test the efficiency or safety of such solutions.
Fatoumatta: Back to Russia and the Republic of Cuba. Scientists at Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology and Microbiology, the medical-research institute, under the Russian Ministry’s supervision, got to work and produced Sputnik V. While the West has initially downplayed Sputnik V efficacy, countries like Italy, Hungary, Argentina, and Slovakia are scrambling for doses behind the scenes. Gamaleya Research Institute of Epidemiology is also doing great work with Ebola. Exported, Sputnik V costs about US$10 per vial. Good for revenue and equally a tool for vaccine diplomacy.
Finlay Institute of Vaccines in Havana, Cuba, is not a very high-tech facility by modern standards. The Institute’s equipment is outdated. The country is not very rich in monetary terms. Cuba’s GDP is about USD100 billion. For comparison, Africa’s GDP totaled $2.6 trillion (Nominal; 2019.
However, the results of work coming from the Finlay Institute is impressive. Soberana (“sovereign”) 2 is the island’s domestically-produced Covid-19 vaccine. Despite years of US sanctions, the Institute has a solid R&D track record in biotech and immunology.
Now, whatever conspiracies there may be, Russians and Cubans get to inject doses of vaccines researched, tested, and clinically tried by their scientists. From experience, leaders in these countries know that not producing their vaccines is to surrender to manipulation, commercial and political, by those who can deliver.
Fatoumatta: In Africa, it is a continuation of learned helplessness. In this vaccine game, most scientists in Africa are not engaged in primary research but are primarily deployed in clinical trials by foreign big pharma and universities. How can we prevent mindless conspiracy when our medical research ecosystem cannot solve now and immediate problems without waiting for foreign solutions?
All over Africa, societies are “waiting” for vaccines. Since the demise of colonialism, societies have produced PhDs in medical science, virology, microbiology, biotechnology, pharmaceutical technology, etc. Societies that send their best brains to a Western institution of higher learning for knowledge and technology exchange. “I went to Oxford, Stanford, Harvard kind of people.” What is the use of advanced scientific knowledge if it does not solve practical problems? Away from postulating theories and writing long academic papers?
Moreover, when foreign vaccines arrive, the whole government bureaucracy is at the airport ululating. Mostly, when Africans present something forward as a solution to Covid-19, it is either some unproven concoction from Madagascar or denialism coupled with blind faith.
Can we imagine the symbolic insult to the African scientific community caused by the promotion of things like “COVID-Organics” promoted by none other than the President of Madagascar?
Fatoumatta: Suppose we claim “independence !” then why can’t we ban imports and manufacture locally made face masks and testing kits. If we think imported Covid-19 test kits are hopeless, why not fund and task our scientific community to rapidly develop, prototype, test, and deploy?
If we complain about the West’s solutions and have no homegrown alternatives, then what is the practical choice?
Why do we find it difficult to put in the work, use the scientific method to verify efficacy before we promote? A tradition of make-believe, blind faith, or witchcraft, maybe?
Fatoumatta: Suppose someone gave all the 53 African countries the active ingredient for making any of the Covid-19 vaccines today. In that case, it is probably South Africa that is currently capable of fill and pack operations. This is why we are mostly stuck with conspiracies of the “new world” order kind. In the end, science is about solving problems, not bragging in bars about academic qualifications. Helpless people love conspiracies because they provide a basis for explaining away helplessness.
Alagi Yorro Jallow