Network of biomedical sciences centres of excellence

The African Development Bank has approved loans totalling US$98.22 million to set up a network of centres of excellence in biomedical sciences in the East African countries of Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda.

The initiative was announced on 3 October, according to a statement by the African Development Bank or AfDB.

It is in line with the AfDB’s Human Capital Strategy 2014-18 regarding skills development for competitiveness and jobs, and is based on the strategy’s New Education Model of Africa, which aims to tackle the mismatch between skills and labour market needs, promote the adoption of ICTs and support research and regional integration through centres of excellence.

African medical education

A 2014 World Health Organization, or WHO, report, A Universal Truth: No health without a workforce, forecast especially acute shortages of medical workers in Sub-Saharan Africa.

“On education and training, for example, in the 47 countries of Sub-Saharan Africa, just 168 medical schools exist. Of those countries, 11 have no medical schools, and 24 countries have only one medical school,” the WHO report stated.

A 2009 report revealed that: "Only 1.3% of the world’s health workers care for people who experience 25% of the global disease burden."

New centres of excellence

The AfDB loan will support the establishment of a network of centres of excellence in biomedical sciences and engineering – nephrology and urology in Kenya, oncology in Uganda, cardiovascular in Tanzania and biomedical engineering and e-health in Rwanda.

Besides developing higher education programmes, the new network will collaborate with ‘world-class’ institutions in curriculum development, faculty exchange, mentoring and access to resource materials, and will carry out joint thematic biomedical research.

It is hoped that the new network will directly benefit the estimated 150 million citizens in the five East African Community – EAC – countries by boosting affordable quality and accredited biomedical skills and tertiary institutions and services in biomedical sciences.

It also aims to increase the availability and employability of medical graduates in the regional labour market by creating opportunities for students from the EAC region – as well as students from Central Africa who are already training within the EAC – to access high quality postgraduate biomedical sciences education.

The private sector in the region will also benefit from a bigger and better qualified and accredited skilled medical workforce, instead of relying on foreign professionals.

In phase one, the network will target 150 students on postgraduate programmes – 140 masters and 10 PhD students – in addition to 300 trainees for short courses.

The AfDB’s financing represents 91% of the entire project cost estimated at US$107.81 million. The four countries hosting the centres of excellence will provide funding to the tune of US$8.97 million.

The second phase of the programme will include the establishment of a centre of excellence in Burundi – the only East African country not included in the first phase – in nutritional sciences.

Expert's views

“This is a very important initiative for promoting research and tackling the shortage of medical professionals and inadequate training in Africa,” Juma Shabani, former director of development, coordination and monitoring of UNESCO programmes with a special focus on Africa, told University World News.

Echoing Shabani’s view, Calestous Juma, the Martin Luther King Jr Visiting Professor of Urban Studies and Planning at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and professor of international development at the Harvard Kennedy School, said: “Africa needs to give priority to biomedical sciences as a foundation for human development.

“The dramatic impact of the Ebola outbreak underscores the importance of biomedical research.

"I hope the support by the AfDB will be substantially matched by local private sector sources to foster local innovation and entrepreneurship,” concluded Calestous Juma, who is also co-chair of the African Union's High Level Panel on Science, Technology and Innovation.