Lepowura Mohammed N. Jawula, Chief Director of the Ministry of Health yesterday stressed the need for Ghana to invest in research to harness development. 'Ghana lacks the zeal of investing in research and we rely so much on donors for everything,' he added.
Lepowura Jawula made the call at the opening of a two-day stakeholders workshop on 'Life Sciences Commercialisation and Convergence'' in Accra and called on stakeholders to set aside at least two per cent of their budget for research which he said, ' will get us far with whatever we want to achieve'.
The workshop organised by the Ministry of Health in collaboration with McLaughlin-Rothman Centre for Global Health (MRC) is being attended by over 70 participants from research institutes, policy making bodies, funding agencies, regulatory organisations, private sector organizations and research scientists from Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa, Tanzania, Canada and United Kingdom.
The workshop is discussing, among other things, the results of study conducted by MRC in Ghana at the request of the Minister for Health. MRC is currently exploring ways in which developing countries like Ghana can harness locally developed life sciences capacity to address local health needs and stimulate socio-economic development.
Lepuwura Jawula also expressed the need to include traditional medicines in the treatment of malaria. He said the nation was battling with malaria though some traditional medicines had shown the potency to cure the disease 'due to the issue of intellectual property rights which had been the biggest problem with researchers and traditional medicine practitioners.'
He called on participants to address the issue of traditional medicine and intellectual property rights and identify potential partnerships to explore further commercially viable opportunities and concrete steps for sustainable development.
Ms Sara Al-Bader, a Graduate Student with MRC, giving the background of the study, said the purpose was to examine how to strengthen the country's life sciences innovation system to become a key player in regional life sciences development.
The study looked at the private enterprise, regulation, research and development, traditional medicine and malaria and regional leadership. The study noted that Ghana had the best-regulated market in West Africa but had no patents in pharmaceutical sector, while the intellectual property office was undeveloped.
The study commended Ghana for having a strong centre for biomedical research and development in communicable diseases like malaria, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis and the development of prototype diagnostic, a dipstick assay for schistosomiasis.
The study also commended Ghana for the efforts made in the area of traditional medicine and cited the establishment of the Centre for Scientific Research into Plant Medicine at Akuapem Mampong in the Eastern Region, the several anti-malaria drugs and training programme on traditional medicine by the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in the Ashanti Region.
The study noted that unmet needs like locally relevant and affordable health products existed whilst many key elements of an innovation system also existed but lacked synergy and knowledge flow between groups for commercialisation of new health technologies.
It called for leadership to be taken in strengthening capacity to commercialise new health technologies in Ghana through success stories and consider developing a convergence platform to stimulate life sciences commercialisation.
'Such platform would bring together stakeholders for sciences, business, finance and the not-for profit sector and encourage communication, collaboration and learning around life sciences commercialisation,' she concluded.
Emeritus Professor Francis Nkrumah, formerly with the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research who chaired said the recent revolution in biotechnology over the past two decades with DNA technology in particular and allied fields had opened new prospects of producing safe and effective drugs, vaccines and diagnostic tools for prevention, detection and treatment.
He expressed regret that majority of currently available health products of biotechnology were not directed to the prevention and treatment of diseases of the poor and neglected diseases. He said it was unfortunate that developing countries in Africa had not been able to derive the fullest benefits from the advances in health biotechnology due to lack of capacity to participate effectively in products for local need.
Prof Nkrumah called for the urgent need for sub-Saharan Africa to accelerate and intensify the acquisition and application of new technologies in solving and addressing the relevant health problems confronting its people.