Empowering developing countries to direct their own research

May / June 2017 | Volume 16, Issue 3

Opinion by Fogarty Director Dr Roger I Glass

Empowerment is one of the underlying themes of HHS Secretary Tom Price’s current effort to “Reimagine HHS.” It’s a concept that is central to Fogarty’s mission and the research training programs we support.

In order for low- and middle-income countries to take ownership of their health problems, they must have the necessary tools - a well-trained cadre of scientists capable of setting research priorities and producing discoveries that are relevant in the local culture and context.

From a security standpoint, nations with scientific expertise are also better prepared to contain infectious disease outbreaks when they occur. As we saw with Ebola in 2014, the countries that have well-trained researchers who are networked with global experts were able to swiftly manage the Ebola cases that crossed their borders, unlike the nations in West Africa, which had few technical or human resources to deploy.

Recently, the Secretary visited Liberia where Fogarty grantees and collaborators told him about our efforts to ensure West African countries will be better prepared to identify and contain the next infectious disease outbreak, which will surely come. Price said his visit was a moving reminder of the worldwide impact HHS has and the respect it enjoys.

Secretary Tom Price stands in a hallway listening to a woman who speaks to him in a clinic in Liberia
Photo courtesy of HHS

HHS Secretary Price visited Liberia in May and met with NIH grantees,
among others.

Our Medical Education Partnership Initiative (MEPI) is another example of how Fogarty is helping to empower Africans. By supporting collaborations among U.S. scientists and African medical schools, MEPI is transforming medical education, dramatically increasing enrollment, broadening curricula, upgrading internet access and providing cutting-edge skills labs and other technologies. Because the grantees are linked into a regional network that can leverage resources and encourage South-South partnerships, progress is more likely to be sustainable. Through unprecedented engagement with ministries of health, education and finance, MEPI grantees are aligning program goals with country health needs and priorities, ensuring government buy-in and continued support.

Additionally, Fogarty has now assumed a leadership role in helping to advance genomics research in Africa, through the Human Heredity and Health in Africa Consortium (H3Africa). Not only are we training African scientists so they can use the latest technologies to study genomics, speed progress and personalize care for themselves, but we Americans also stand to benefit from the knowledge gained. By unlocking the secrets of African genomes, we will gain a better understanding of the genetic roots from which we all came.

By providing research training to developing country scientists through these and other programs, we are empowering them to join our efforts to contain pandemics, improving global security. We're also inviting them to stand beside us, as equal partners, in our quest to expand the frontiers of science.

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