Last year, Wilfred Ndifon, a Cameroonian scientist, announced that his research into the human body’s immune system had solved a 70-year-old immunological mystery. His discovery promises to make it easier to produce more efficient vaccines. In the long run, Ndifon’s pioneering research could reduce the prevalence of infectious diseases and halt the spread of diseases like malaria and HIV, which plague Africa in particular.
But Ndifon, one of the honorees at Quartz’s Africa Innovators summit this week in Nairobi, says despite the benefits of improving healthcare and life expectancy on the continent, he receives very little support from governments in Africa.
“What I do would not be possible without assistance from the West,” Ndifon says. With financial support not forthcoming locally, Ndifon depends on funding from Canada to keep his research going.
Ndifon’s lack of support is not an isolated event but a sign of the wider problem finding funding for science projects on the continent. “Government-backed funding programs for science projects are nearly nonexistent in Africa,” Ndifon says. “Where they do exist, they usually have very limited funding.” This lack of support for science projects, Ndifon previously said, could hamstring progress in solving some of Africa’s biggest problems.
“We need scientific research to solve the many, many problems that we face, from discovering cures for diseases to the problem of food shortage,” he said. “I hope that the governments will better understand the role that science can play in improving decision making and, more importantly, understanding the problems that we face.”
To address the problem, Ndifon says leaders on the continent need to be “educated” on setting the right priorities and providing “sustainable funding” for scientists. For his part, Ndifon hopes his success can play a role in “inspiring other African scientists.”
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