Lisanework E Ayalew, DVM, PhD
Professional Research Associate
Department of Veterinary Pathology
University of Saskatchewan, Canada
Health science research outputs from universities and research institutes in Ethiopia are not mostly translated into practice for the social and economic benefit of the country. More specifically, the research data generated, or innovations made are not often utilized to influence public policy, to improve human health, reduce transmission of infectious diseases in humans and animals or increase food supply by improving health and productivity of farm animals. As a result, the country is mostly dependent on importing human and veterinary diagnostic kits, medical devices, drugs, vaccines and nutrition solutions from foreign biotech and pharmaceutical companies. This puts an economic pressure on the country by depleting its foreign currency reserves. In addition, due to minimal research-policy linkages, veterinary and public health related government policies in the country are usually opinion based rather than scientific evidence based. As vaccines, biological products and diagnostic kits imported from other countries are not developed considering the disease context in Ethiopia, there is a high probability of failure in accurate diagnosis, prevention and treatment of human and animal diseases, particularly infectious diseases. Therefore, encouraging the development of successful health science research outputs into marketable biological and drug products is indispensable. Some of the factors which could be considered as setbacks in the translation of health science research outputs into practice in Ethiopia are described below.
- Inadequate research result dissemination and lack of adequate peer review process
The two biggest problems for health research scientists in Ethiopia are the absence of local regular platforms for the dissemination of their research outputs and financial constraints to attend international conferences outside of the country. In a country, where there is only one veterinary journal and few medical journals that issue publications few times every year, the peer review process is inadequate to inspire researchers to conduct high international standard research and avoid unwarranted claims and unacceptable interpretations. The project proposal review process by government funding agencies is also weak and doesn’t involve rigorous scientific review process. There is also no strict follow up of research progress after grants are approved. This creates a negative impact on the quality of the research conducted. Impactful regular scientific meetings and conferences that showcase health science research outputs are not common. The scientific conferences and meetings that are held are usually narrow in scope and do not involve the industry, practitioners, diagnosticians, policy makers and other appropriate stakeholders. Therefore, any outstanding scientific finding remain only within the small community and will not have the effect that is needed to create in the wider scientific community and other concerned bodies.
- Difficulties of communicating complex evidence-based information to policy makers
Government public policy makers play a great role in the control of the dissemination of regional and transboundary diseases both in humans and animals. The policies could be more beneficial to the society if they are formulated based on solid scientific facts rather than opinions. There were recent instances where foreign animal diseases were imported into Ethiopia together with “best performing” foreign breeds of animals from other countries because of poor animal importation policies and regulations. To enable scientific evidence-based health policy making in Ethiopia, the huge communication gap between policy makers and health science researchers must be significantly improved. Policy makers must be able to examine scientific data generated within the country before copying public health policies of other countries. The scientific community must also make appropriate research outputs readily accessible to policy makers in a simplified format. To avoid a complex and contested relationship between scientists and policy makers and to develop trust and credibility, health science research projects should involve policy makers from the start to the end of the project implementation process.
- Lack of end-user integration in the research plan
End-user integration plan is important in health science research for knowledge transfer and translation. End-users can provide feedbacks on the practical application of the technologies that can potentially be generated from the project. It also helps for the adoption and commercialization of the research outputs. However, in Ethiopia integration of end users in the framework of the research plan and during the implementation of the project are not fully considered by many researchers. This practice must change for the results of the health science research undertakings to be impactful in a more meaningful way.
- Challenges of commercialization of new products and technologies
The concept of patenting, ownership, intellectual property protection and commercialization is in its infant stage in Ethiopia. The inability to commercialize novel research products is one of the major problems in developing countries including Ethiopia. In many countries, health science research and product development and technological innovations are mostly driven by public funding while uptake of research outputs and marketplace activities are driven by commercial interest groups. However, in Ethiopia almost all local biotech and pharmaceutical companies are either involved in importing or manufacturing and distributing drugs and biological products. Even though these companies are financially capable, they neither have established their own research and development wing nor they help and encourage the development and commercialization of research outputs from research institutes and universities in the country. In contrast to the developed world, providing funding for research projects to higher education and research institutions by the private sector to jointly develop marketable new technologies and products is negligible in Ethiopia. To create and strengthen the link between industry and research institutions, every higher education and research institution in the country must be able to create industry-research innovation centers that would be able to identify market demand and make market research and analysis and create linkage with private companies for product development and commercialization.
- The role the health science researchers in the diaspora can play in enhancing the translation of health science research into practice in Ethiopia
Several accomplished health science researchers of Ethiopian origin in currently work in various governmental and private institutions in the developed world. These health science professionals have diverse experiences in the areas of basic science and applied clinical research, patenting and commercialization of research products. Hence, great contributions can be made by the willingness to transfer knowledge and technology to the different research and higher education institutions in the country. Knowledge and technology transfer can be achieved by creating partnerships with local research institutes and universities, by organizing training programs and regular multidisciplinary health science conferences, by helping develop grant proposals and participating in project proposal review process, by sharing experiences on patenting, intellectual property and commercialization and by helping the private sector in establishing start up biotech companies.
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