SPEECH BY THE KENYA CABINET SECRETARY FOR HEALTH HON. JAMES MACHARIA, DURING THE OFFICIAL OPENING CEREMONY
Hon. Governor of Nairobi, Dr. Evans Kidero,
Your Excellencies the Ambassadors,
Other Invited Guests,
Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am truly delighted to be here to open this forum on A Decade of R&D for Neglected Diseases in Africa: Endemic Country Research and Development for Patient Access.
May I take this early opportunity to welcome all of you to this important event. Indeed forums of this nature are an opportunity for each one of us to reflect on achievements of DNDi and many other important initiatives after a decade of engagement. These significant achievements will enhance our future plans for the next decade towards the realization of “Connect to fight neglect”.
Distinguished guests, I wish recognise the significant contributions by KEMRI, Drugs for Neglected Diseases and other partners in ensuring issues that affect the health of our people are addressed. Your engagement and achievements for research and development for the most neglected diseases serves as a clarion call to all of us in Africa’s health and research sector.
As most of you may know in May of this year, the 66th World Health Assembly adopted a landmark resolution on neglected tropical diseases to ensure country ownership of prevention, control, elimination and eradication programmes for these diseases which are both the result and the cause of poverty in Africa.
This NTD resolution gives us all the impetus and the collective responsibility for universal access to interventions and for mobilizing the resources, policies, and interventions to reach the targets of the WHO Roadmap for neglected tropical diseases. Today we must begin putting this strategy into action.
Ladies and gentlemen, today major achievements have been documented in the field of NTDs, but we must remember that the road ahead is still long – many patients are still in need of being diagnosed and treated with good quality and adapted drugs. I wish to assure you of our commitment as the Government in supporting this initiative. Our appreciation to all the collaborators, we highly applaud our association and partnership. We acknowledge the enormous contributions of the various partners and collaborators to our health research development; together we will ensure better health not only to the Kenyan people but for Africans and the world at large.
As you are aware many neglected diseases with high prevalence in Africa either occur almost exclusively on the continent – for example, sleeping sickness or river blindness – or affect the continent disproportionately, such as HIV/AIDS, malaria, kala azar or tuberculosis. These infectious diseases form a large portion of Africa’s total disease burden.
The economic impact is difficult to assess. But, we know that Africa is losing billions of dollars each year as a result of these diseases, keeping millions in a vicious circle of disease and poverty.
Despite the terrible impact these diseases have on Africa’s economic development and welfare, they have been seriously under-researched.
During your deliberations today I hope that you will take note of the real benefits of bringing new health tools for public health, and of the fact that these benefits cannot happen in “Silo operations”. The past decade has seen innovation in partnerships, combining North-South and South-South collaborations in ways that have allowed for capacity to be built to conduct clinical research for Africa, in Africa, and by Africa. Innovative Partnerships and strong alliances are one of the main lessons learned from the last decade!
Today, Ladies and Gentlemen, we can say that even in some of the most remote areas of our continent, international standard clinical trials are being conducted.
If we look at the scientific publications generated by the research that is going on in Africa we see that, despite the growing capacity to conduct research, the actual impact in terms of scientific publication outputs from Africa needs to be enhanced so as to reach the levels of outputs like the developed countries. My challenge to you today is not just to increase the outputs in publications but also ensure uptake of research findings for policy.
As public health professionals, we have the basic knowledge of these diseases. As the African scientific community, we need to strive to build the scientific excellence to take ownership of research for health. I am proud of the achievements of KEMRI and other African research institutions and encourage their work in achieving this goal.
Distinguished guests, health research is also about how our health systems operationalize and enhance the advances made in clinical management of neglected diseases.
I believe Africa is ready to take a step in this field, to develop and implement integrated strategies for neglected diseases. By this we mean strategies to tackle several diseases together in comprehensive programmes. These policies can lead to less duplication of efforts and resources – in short, cause less economic burden on our health systems and address the health needs of our populations. African countries have begun to take this very important first step, Kenya is one of several.
But even with such integrated strategies, and the political will required to propel them – in addition to the resources required from them – we must not forget that the right tools for elimination are necessary to really see the elimination of many of these diseases.
We now have the capacity to test diagnostics, vaccines, and drugs. But we need to ensure that the resources required to get them through the research and development process will be forthcoming and sustained. We also need to ensure that we are working together as African countries, through collaboration across the various sectors and borders we must maximise on these resources. The current reflections and efforts to harmonize regulatory processes are promising and will also be vital to ensuring that the fruits of research and development translate rapidly into safe and effective treatments.
Distinguished guests, I am convinced and have no doubt that “Connect to Fight Neglect” is achievable. I wish you all very fruitful discussions and look forward to receiving your recommendations.
It is now my pleasure to declare this auspicious occasion marking DNDi’s 10 Year anniversary celebrations OFFICIALLY OPEN.