The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) recently held its Merck Africa Research Summit (MARS) in Morocco. The four-day event was attended by a distinguished group of African scientists and decision makers, who discussed topics that included the future of medical research and development in the continent, the importance of knowledge exchange for medical research, indigenous knowledge systems, and several others.
The event served as a platform to explore and provide information about the latest research findings on healthcare and health research trends in Africa. Themed “From Discovery to Public Health: A Shared Transformation”, the summit specifically focused on the benefits of reaping from shared research, thereby raising awareness and catalyzing action towards achieving wellness in African countries.
Experts at the summit included renowned researchers from Merck Foundation for Health Innovation (MFHI), researchers from African universities, business innovators, healthcare providers, private-sector pharmaceutical companies, and non-profit organizations – all collaborating in pursuit of innovative bridging solutions to healthcare needs of Sub-Saharan Africa. Participants included key members from NGOs like Medecins Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders, PATH Cameroon, as well as representatives from major pharmaceutical companies like Novo Nordisk, Sanofi-Aventis Rabat Foundation.
The keynote speakers included Dr Fatoumata Nafo Traore who is Acting Director of Science Policy and Capacity Building Division and Head of Representation for UNESCO office in Rabat. Other speakers included Mariana Salto and Antoni Abatjojo; Merck Foundation leadership team members responsible for Programs Development & Philanthropy and Demography & Population Health respectively. The summit featured a high-level gala dinner attended by His Highness Prince Moulay Rachid of Morocco.
It is evident that Africa has both challenges and opportunities when it comes to creating an innovation landscape in public health – something that requires cross-disciplinary resellership efforts with enterprise collaboration and partnerships among local communities. Equally important are integrating traditional medicine with modern technology, validating evidence-based interventions and exploring market opportunities towards harnessing appropriate technologies amongst African youth population. MARS 2020 was yet another step towards achieving all these goals.
Today marks the opening of the first-ever UNESCO Merck Africa Research Summit (MARS) taking place at the African Leadership University (ALU) in Mauritius. Hosted by UNESCO, Merck Foundation and the ALU, this summit brings together African experts in life sciences, stakeholders and policy makers to discuss groundbreaking research and projects related to healthcare and innovation on the continent.
The four-day event recognises the need to promote collaborative research in medicine, information technology, agriculture and energy between African countries. African countries often lack the resources and infrastructure to develop new technologies alone. By providing a platform for collaboration, MARS will help implement projects that improve access to healthcare while harnessing local innovation.
The Summit programme consists of two core aspects: 1) bridging gaps within Africa through public health dialogue and 2) creating an open space for collaborative innovation in technology. Over 200 delegates from 17 sub-Saharan countries will convene for talks, panels and workshops hosted by scientists and policy makers over the next days. Such topics include maternal health, neglected tropical diseases, global health initiatives and the potential of biotechnological advancements. Confirmed speakers include Dr Helen Rees (Executive Director of Wits Reproductive Health Institute), Professor David Sanders (Director of Zimbabwe Biomedical Research Centre), Justine Allenby (Chief Medical Officer at JABSOM)among others.
By gathering Africa’s best researchers around a common goal for collaborative innovation and public health promotion, MARS hopes to achieve concrete results to drive human progress across Africa. With this summit, African healthcare and innovation are stepping into a new era of progress. The success of MARS 2019 looks promising and hopeful for Africa’s future.