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Antonio Monge , Director of research center in Applied Pharmacobiology (CIFA), University of Navarra , Spain

Science and society

Thu, 10 Jun 2010 08:30:42 +0000 Published in Navarra Newspaper

There are words whose mere accredited specialization is shocking. One of them is Malaria. The number of people affected varies, but it is estimated that some 500 million people suffer from the disease. Perhaps because of the coldness of the figures, it gives the chilling feeling that a hundred million more or less is a matter of detail, so it is worth putting data in the context, for example, of the European population. Thus, the area affected by this disease in Africa exceeds 18 million square kilometers. In other words, thirty-six times the size of Spain.

A third fact that demands our reflection is that every thirty seconds - the time it has taken us to read these lines - a child dies of this disease on the African continent. It is terrifying to calculate the number of deaths in a single year.

In the mid-1950s, scientists working for its eradication set out to wipe out the disease within the next decade. U.S. President J.F. Kennedy pledged that man would reach the moon, and he succeeded. However, half a century later the challenge to end Malaria still stands. Now, in the 21st century, man could reach Mars. Will he also be able to end the scourge of malaria?

Meanwhile, the numbers on the incidence of the disease do not always take into account another issue of paramount importance for the population that suffers from it: the loss of people, the multiplication of disabilities, care for the sick, sick leave and children's schooling. A suffocating burden for Africa.

Against this backdrop, future action should be based on certain principles. First of all, it is urgent to recognize that the problems of these countries have repercussions for the entire planet, as has been seen recently with the economic crisis or the influence of a distant volcano. Therefore, the search for solutions will also be the responsibility of everyone, not just those affected. It is at this point that we must propose a new way of acting. A new contract between science and society that considers attention to universal social problems.

Secondly, we should replace the word donation with cooperation, since it is not so much a matter of the rich countries solving the problems "of" the poor, but rather of solving them "with" them. It is not about the North putting an end to the diseases of the South, but about the North providing knowledge and means to implement the solutions in the South, contributing to their progress.

If a state needs a certain drug, we can send it to it, although it would be much more effective if we could teach it to produce it itself, encouraging the creation of companies and universities. When we think of research and innovation, we take it for granted that we are talking about a task exclusive to developed countries. We deny this possibility to those that are lagging behind, without thinking that without this activity they will have no future.

Likewise, solving Africa's problems involves considering the terms of engagement with the countries at development. Determining the extent to which they are willing to get involved in project by allocating funds and resources. In conclusion, it is a matter of working together with the "I can" of the developed countries and the "I want" and "I will" of the states in development.

Finally, the modern partnership is already governed by the quality of the actions. It is therefore important to have external evaluators for projects and to make sure that we call on "all" the actors and provide "the best". In many cases, projects are defined with a laudable desire to financial aid but lacking practical foundations that consider their quality, timeliness, development, involvement, continuity, local interest and future.

All these ideas are simple and even obvious proposals, and at the same time indispensable if we want to think about a future commitment to Africa's survival.