NAIROBI, May 1 (Xinhua) -- Sub-Saharan African nations should intensify surveillance, and invest in new vaccines, diagnostics, and therapeutics in order to curb the growing threat of infectious diseases, scientists said Sunday evening at the just concluded 2023 Ibrahim Governance Weekend held in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi.
Tom Kariuki, executive director of the Science for Africa Foundation, a Nairobi-based non-profit lobby that advances science and innovations, stressed that enhanced preparedness will be key to averting disruption of the continent's public health systems in the event of disease outbreaks.
Kariuki said Africa continues to grapple with a growing burden of infectious diseases, fueled by climate change, disruptions of ecosystems, and pollution.
He added that the solution lies in upscaling local manufacturing of health products like vaccines, antibiotics, and greater public education.
"Innovative tools, including improved environmental protection, access to vaccines and therapeutics, can be effective in managing emerging infectious diseases in the continent," Kariuki said.
He added that governments should allocate sufficient funding toward research on novel vaccines and drugs to manage malaria, HIV and AIDS, tuberculosis, and other emerging ailments like the Marburg virus, and avian flu.
Kariuki noted that anti-microbial resistance has undermined efforts to tame vector-borne diseases in Africa, stressing that academia-industry partnerships are required to address the crisis.
James Kimotho, head of the Kenya Medical Research Institute's Innovation and Technology Transfer Division, said the African governments should establish policy and regulatory frameworks to facilitate clinical trials aimed at strengthening the treatment and management of infectious diseases.
Kimotho emphasized that home-grown research combined with capacity building for scientists and public outreach will be crucial to revitalizing the war against communicable diseases taking a toll on Africa's grassroots communities.
Huwaida Bulhan, senior clinical operations team lead of Area Africa at Roche, a pharmaceutical company, said investing in modern diagnostics and drug regimens for treating infectious diseases will have spin-off effects like economic growth in the continent.
Bulhan said the COVID-19 pandemic served as a wake-up call for African countries to strengthen their disease surveillance systems besides having adequate stockpiles of critical health commodities like drugs and protective gear.
Borna Nyaoke, head of Mycetoma Disease at Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative, an international drugs research entity, said tackling old and emerging infectious diseases in Africa will help reduce poverty and re-invigorate the continent's public health systems.
In addition, Nyaoke challenged African governments to enhance monitoring and response to sporadic outbreaks, driven by ecological pollution, climate crisis, and forced migration.
Michael Lusiola, chief executive officer of the Kenya BioVax Institute, a government-owned company charged with manufacturing health products, stressed the need for African countries to leverage data, collaborative research, and reskilling of the health workforce in their quest to boost action on infectious diseases. ■