African genome research given impetus

Millions of victims in Africa, die each year from preventable diseases like tuberculosis and malaria and researchers say only a relatively small proportion of money is spent on developing vaccines, much more is spent on drugs aimed at tackling diseases more prevalent among rich, Western consumers.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) says less than one percent of total public and private funds spent on health research in recent years has been devoted to pneumonia, diarrhoea, tuberculosis and malaria, more than 20 percent of the world's disease burden.

Malaria and Aids receive only $300-million for vaccines for HIV and Aids and $100-million for malaria research out of $70-billion spent globally on health research in 1998. Unless Africa can win a bigger slice of funding for diseases like Aids and malaria, it risks missing out on the rewards of a revolution in genetic science according to researchers meeting in Kenya on Monday.Scientists from around the world are meeting in Nairobi for a four-day conference to pool knowledge on progress towards vaccines for diseases ravaging humans and animals across the continent.

The South Africa-based African Genome Education Institute, which organised the conference says they aim to work out how to reduce the time-scale of delivery in what is a scienctific problem and concentrate the collective mind on a single momentous effort that makes a real difference.

A decade of worldwide effort has seen the completion of the task of mapping the sequence of genes that make up humans - known as the human genome. This breakthrough could lead to radical new approaches in the development of drugs.

Nobel prize-winning virologist David Baltimore of the California Institute of Technology, and other conference delegates, also aim to ensure diseases like diarrhoea, meningitis, leprosy, the plague and parasites like tsetse fly that affect African cattle are also considered. The conference will also discuss ways of reversing the continent's "brain drain" of African scientists who take up more lucrative posts abroad for want of opportunities to study the genetics of diseases affecting their home countries.

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