THE IMPACT OF MEDICAL RESEARCH ON AFRICA’S HEALTH DEVELOPMENT
BY: Ankrah Robert Nii
Medical research involves research in a wide range of fields, such as biology, chemistry, pharmacology and toxicology with the goal of developing new medicines or medical procedures or improving the application of those already available. It can be viewed as encompassing preclinical research (for example, in cellular systems and animal models) and clinical research (for example, clinical trials). A weak national health system can be viewed as an important contributor to poverty and inequity in the African Region. The role of medical research becomes particularly relevant through issues of health development in Africa.
The Health of the People is the first report to focus on the health of the 738 million people living in the African Region of the World Health Organization. While acknowledging that Africa confronts the world’s most dramatic public health crisis, the journal offers hope that over time Africa can address the health challenges it faces, given sufficient international support.It provides a comprehensive analysis of key public health issues and progress made on them.
- HIV/AIDS continues to devastate the WHO Africa Region, which has 11% of
the world’s population but 60% of the people with HIV/AIDS. Although HIV/AIDS
remains the leading cause of death for adults, more people are receiving
life-saving treatment. The number of HIV-positive people on antiretroviral
medicines increased eight-fold, from 100,000 in December 2003 to 810,000 in
- More than 90% of the estimated 300-500 million malaria cases that occur
worldwide every year are in Africans, mainly in children under five years of
age, but most countries are moving towards better treatment policies. Of the 42
malaria-endemic countries in the African region, 33 have adopted artemisinin-based
combinationtherapy the most effective antimalarial medicines available today as
first-line treatmentthrough medical research.
- River blindness has been eliminated as a public health problem, and
guinea worm control efforts have resulted in a 97% reduction in cases since
1986. Leprosy is close to elimination meaning there is less than one case per
10,000 people in the region.
- Most countries are making good progress on preventable childhood illness. Polio is close to eradication, and 37 countries are reaching 60% or more of their children with measles immunization. Overall measles deaths have declined by more than 50% since 1999. In 2005 alone 75 million children received measles vaccines.
The journal offers a candid appraisal of major hurdles, such as the high rate of maternal and newborn mortality overall in the region. Of the 20 countries with the highest maternal mortality ratios worldwide, 19 are in Africa; and the region has the highest neonatal death rate in the world. Then there is the strain on African health developments imposed by the high burden of life-threatening communicable diseases coupled with increasing rates of non-communicable diseases such as hypertension and coronary heart disease. Basic sanitation needs remain unmet for many: only 58% of people living in sub-Saharan Africa have access to safe water supplies. Non-communicable diseases, such as hypertension, heart disease, diabetes a are on the rise and injuries remain among top causes of death in the region.
The report stresses that Africa can move forward on health developments only by improving and introducing medical researches and strengthening its fragile health systems.