A team of neuroscientists are calling for greater support of neuroscience research in Africa based on an analysis of the continent’s past two decades of research outputs.
The findings reveal important information about the nature of funding and international collaboration comparing activity in the continent to other countries, mainly the US, UK and areas of Europe. It is hoped that the study will provide useful data to help further develop science in Africa.
The greatest human genetic diversity is found in Africa, and Eurasian genomes have less variation than African ones; in fact, Eurasian genomes can be considered a subset of African ones. This carries important implications for understanding human diseases, including neurological disorders.
Co-lead senior author Tom Baden, Professor of Neuroscience in the School of Life Sciences and the Sussex Neuroscience research group at the University of Sussex said: “One beautiful thing about science is that there is no such thing as a truly local problem. But that also means that there should be no such thing as a local solution – research and scientific communication by their very nature must be a global endeavour.
“And yet, currently the vast majority of research across most disciplines is carried out by a relatively small number of countries, located mostly in the global north. This is a huge waste of human potential.”
The team, made up of experts from the University of Sussex, the Francis Crick Institute and institutions from across Africa, analysed the entirety of Africa’s outputs in neuroscience over two decades. A lot of early neuroscience research took place in Egypt, it was pointed out.
Lead author Mahmoud Bukar Maina, a Research Fellow in the School of Life Sciences and the Sussex Neuroscience research group at the University of Sussex and visiting scientist at Yobe State University, Nigeria, explained: “Even though early progress in neuroscience began in Egypt, Africa’s research in this area has not kept pace with developments in the field around the world. There are a number of reasons behind this and, for the first time, our work has provided a clear picture of why – covering both strengths and weaknesses of neuroscience research in Africa and comparing this to other continents.
“We hope it will provide useful data to guide governments, funders and other stakeholders in helping to shape science in Africa, and combat the ‘brain drain’ from the region.”
Co-lead senior author Lucia Prieto-Godino, a Group Leader at the Francis Crick Institute, said: “One of the reasons why this work is so important, is that the first step to solve any problem is understanding it. Here we analyse key features and the evolution of neuroscience publications across all 54 African countries, and put them in a global context. This highlights strengths and weaknesses, and informs which aspects will be key in the future to support the growth and global integration of neuroscience research in the continent.”
The study identifies the African countries with the greatest research outputs, revealing that most research funding originates from external sources such as the USA and UK.
The researchers argue that a sustainable African neuroscience research environment needs local funding, suggesting that greater government backing is needed as well as support from the philanthropic sector.
Professor Baden added: “One pervasive problem highlighted in our research was the marked absence of domestic funding. In most African countries, international funding far predominates. This is doubly problematic.
“Firstly, it takes away the crucial funding stability that African researchers would need to meaningfully embark on large-scale and long-term research projects, and secondly, it means that the international, non-African funders essentially end up deciding what research is performed across the continent. Such a system would generate profound outrage across places like Europe – how then can it be acceptable for Africa?”
A number of the researchers involved in the study are members of TReND Africa, a charity supporting scientific capacity building in Africa.
Source: University of Sussex
Journal information: M. B. Maina et al, Two decades of neuroscience publication trends in Africa, Nature Communications (2021). DOI: 10.1038/s41467-021-23784-8 , www.nature.com/articles/s41467-021-23784-8