Technological trends and opportunities to combat diseases of the poor in Africa

Chataway, J.; Chaturvedi, K.; Hanlin, R.; Mugwagwa, J.; Wield, D. and Smith, J. (2009). Technological trends and opportunities to combat diseases of the poor in Africa. In: Kalua, Fetson; Awotedu, Abolade; Kamwanja, Leonard and Saka, John eds. Science, Technology and Innovation for Public Health in Africa. Pretoria, Republic of South Africa.: NEPAD Office of Science and Technology, pp. 53–93.



Scientific and technological breakthroughs do not necessarily lead to accessibility of a new product to the public. There is no automatic and smooth transfer from laboratory to product, and followed by delivery to the consumer. In order to have useful innovation and product development, issues such as funding, regulation, production and delivery need to be resolved not only by African governments but also the international community, industry and civil society.

In this chapter we address following questions on the issue of transfer (or translation): which technologies do health experts think have the greatest potential to address Africa’s health challenges? what are the main barriers and challenges to developing or accessing those technologies; and, what can be learnt from the existing initiatives which are aimed at producing, supporting or promoting the procurement and application of science and technology (S&T)? It is important to note that the changes are complex and go beyond the concept of simple transfer and thus need to be systematic.

To that end, we have proceeded as follows: summarised the recent work of other groups on these questions; added the findings of our own Delphi survey; examined in detail three types of key technological trends and opportunities to see how they might be developed, and also to consider the constraints to be overcome. A key premise of this chapter is that there are three basic sets of challenges in developing technologies for diseases of the poor in Africa. First, that scientific and technological challenges are key to addressing specific diseases. Secondly, that it is essential to address market failures and construct policies to improve the supply of and demand for appropriate new health technologies and innovation. Thirdly, that greater attention be paid to the ‘social technologies’ - the organisational and institutional mix - involved in producing and distributing technologies.

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