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Health Res Policy Syst. 2005 Jan 24;3(1):2.

"Harnessing genomics to improve health in Africa" - an executive course to support genomics policy.

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1
Joint Centre for Bioethics, University of Toronto, 88 College Street, Toronto, ON, M5G 1L4, Canada. peter.singer@utoronto.ca.

Abstract

BACKGROUND:

Africa in the twenty-first century is faced with a heavy burden of disease, combined with ill-equipped medical systems and underdeveloped technological capacity. A major challenge for the international community is to bring scientific and technological advances like genomics to bear on the health priorities of poorer countries. The New Partnership for Africa's Development has identified science and technology as a key platform for Africa's renewal. Recognizing the timeliness of this issue, the African Centre for Technology Studies and the University of Toronto Joint Centre for Bioethics co-organized a course on Genomics and Public Health Policy in Nairobi, Kenya, the first of a series of similar courses to take place in the developing world. This article presents the findings and recommendations that emerged from this process, recommendations which suggest that a regional approach to developing sound science and technology policies is the key to harnessing genome-related biotechnology to improve health and contribute to human development in Africa.

METHODS:

The objectives of the course were to familiarize participants with the current status and implications of genomics for health in Africa; to provide frameworks for analyzing and debating the policy and ethical questions; and to begin developing a network across different sectors by sharing perspectives and building relationships. To achieve these goals the course brought together a diverse group of stakeholders from academic research centres, the media, non-governmental, voluntary and legal organizations to stimulate multi-sectoral debate around issues of policy. Topics included scientific advances in genomics innovation systems and business models, international regulatory frameworks, as well as ethical and legal issues.

RESULTS:

Seven main recommendations emerged: establish a network for sustained dialogue among participants; identify champions among politicians; use the New Plan for African Development (NEPAD) as entry point onto political agenda; commission an African capacity survey in genomics-related R&D to determine areas of strength; undertake a detailed study of R&D models with demonstrated success in the developing world, i.e. China, India, Cuba, Brazil; establish seven regional research centres of excellence; and, create sustainable financing mechanisms. A concrete outcome of this intensive five-day course was the establishment of the African Genome Policy Forum, a multi-stakeholder forum to foster further discussion on policy.

CONCLUSION:

With African leaders engaged in the New Partnership for Africa's Development, science and technology is well poised to play a valuable role in Africa's renewal, by contributing to economic development and to improved health. Africa's first course on Genomics and Public Health Policy aspired to contribute to the effort to bring this issue to the forefront of the policy debate, focusing on genomics through the lens of public health. The process that has led to this course has served as a model for three subsequent courses (in India, Venezuela and Oman), and the establishment of similar regional networks on genomics and policy, which could form the basis for inter-regional dialogue in the future.

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