14 February 2005

African science gets windfall

The Academy of Science of South Africa has been chosen to receive funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, according to reports on the Science and Development Network website.

The science academies of Nigeria and Uganda have also received funding.

"The goal is to enhance life for all Africans by making it possible for Africa's scientific community to more effectively tap its potential, both in meeting national needs and in creating a strong science base for public policy," said Bruce Alberts, president of the USA's National Academy of Sciences.

According to the American academy, the science academies in Nigeria, South Africa and Uganda were chosen as the focal points of the new programme "based on their vitality and potential for success, the willingness of each country's government to draw on scientific expertise in decision-making, and the pool of available scientific talent".

The funding will help boost the academies' ability to provide African governments and the public with advice on science-related issues. The money will come from a $20m grant that was awarded last year to the US National Academies to provide support for building the capacities of Africa academies during the next decade.

In line with the goals of the foundation, set up by Microsoft founder Bill Gates, the programme will include specific efforts intended to improve policymaking on issues relating to human health.

Alberts says he is keen for African academies to play the same role in providing science-based advice to top decision-makers as the National Academy of Science does in Washington through the work of the National Research Council and other organisations.

Seven African countries were visited by a small team to assess their ability to absorb extra funding and use it effectively. In addition to the three academies that will received the bulk of the funding, separate strategic planning grants are being awarded to the academies of Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya and Senegal, which had been shortlisted.

The initiative will also support various efforts to promote collaboration and joint learning among sub-Saharan Africa's science academies. This is partly a bid to counter criticism that focusing primarily on three countries runs the risk of doing little for scientists in other African countries.

In addition, Canada's International Development Research Centre has agreed to work with the US organisation to support the initiative, and has promised financial assistance to allow the participation of a fourth initial partner, widely expected to be Senegal. - Science and Development Network


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