WHO Africa advances African science by promoting Peer-reviewed research

The World Health Organization’s African regional office and partners published over 25 peer-reviewed articles in scientific journals in 2023 as part of efforts to address the imbalance in global research and ensure that Africa was better represented in the production of health research academic literature, a new report shows.

The office, through its Universal Health Coverage, Communicable and Non-Communicable Diseases (UCN) Cluster, published on a range of health challenges and diseases, including the risk of zoonotic disease in countries ranging from Uganda, Malawi, Tanzania, Ghana, and Nigeria, investigating infectious and non-infectious diseases, and public health approaches to ease Africa’s disease burden.

This research is critical to the continent, says Africa’s Regional Director, Dr. Matshidiso Moeti.

“The WHO African Region arguably bears one of the greatest burdens of disease globally. This has always been exacerbated by poverty, which, in the decade prior to COVID-19, was on the decline. Now, however, these gains have been reversed, not only by COVID-19 but by a series of severe shocks during the 2020–2022 periods,” said Dr. Matshidiso Moeti, the Regional Director for Africa,” she told IPS.

“Major threats include climate change, global instability, slowing economic growth, and conflict. This makes it ever more important that we at the WHO Regional Office for Africa focus on the central promise of the 2030 SDG agenda, which is to ‘leave no one behind’, using a health systems strengthening approach to move towards universal health coverage.”

According to the Ending Disease in Africa: Responding to Communicable and Non-communicable Diseases 2023 report released in April, WHO scientists were able to publish their work in reputable journals, including the Social Sciences and Humanities Open, supporting Africa’s efforts to raise her scientific research production, estimated at only 2 percent of the world’s total.

The works also found homes in open access journals, including America’s Public Library of Science (PLOS), where they are accessible for free by the scientific community and the general public.

Besides Africa-based scientific publications such as the Nigerian Journal of Parasitology, highlighting the need to support the role local publications can play in elevating African science and, by extension, helping address imbalances in global research.

“A country’s ability to create, acquires, translate, and apply scientific and technological advancements is a major determinant of its socioeconomic and industrial development. Many of Africa’s current and future health challenges can only be addressed by conducting research on population-based approaches towards effective disease prevention and control, which are then translated into policy and practice,” the report noted in introducing the work.

“Despite Africa’s disproportionate burden of disease, the region produced 0.7 percent of global research in 2000, 1.3 percent in 2014 and an estimated 2 percent more recently. In response, the UCN Cluster and partners published over 25 peer-reviewed articles in scientific journals in 2023 as part of efforts to address the imbalance in global research, and ensure regional representation in academic literature.”

In Ghana, the WHO team conducted a “community-based cross-sectional study” to investigate occurrences of skin ulcers, whose findings showed the importance of integrating multiple skin diseases on a common research platform in findings published by PLOS One, while in Tanzania, a “spatio-temporal modelling” of routine health facility data to better guide community-based malaria interventions on the mainland was done.

Some of the papers the WHO-Africa says were examples of “operational and implementation research,” conducted to identify and ensure the successful adoption and adaptation of evidence-based interventions in both clinical and public health on the continent.

They include findings from an impact assessment of a school-based preventive chemotherapy programme for neglected tropical diseases (NTDs), schistosomiasis, and soil-transmitted helminth control in Angola, where used drugs were found to have little impact in controlling the diseases. These findings were published in PLOS Neglected Tropical Diseases.

“This highlighted the need for a comprehensive understanding of individual, community, and environmental factors associated with transmission and consideration for a community-wide control programme,” it concluded.

The Springer Nature’s Malaria Journal published the team’s research on treatment-seeking behavior among parents of children with malaria-related fever in Malawi. It captured the need for targeted health interventions among communities in low socioeconomic settings and those living far from health facilities.

In Nigeria, an article based on experiences in Nigeria using a novel schistosomiasis community data analysis tool, developed by the UCN Cluster, emphasized the usefulness of the tool for strategic planning purposes, allowing the tool to be deployed around Africa for the management of the disease. Blood flukes (trematode worms) from the genus Schistosoma are the primary cause of the acute and chronic parasitic disease schistosomiasis.

Research on health policy and systems, the aim being to better understand how “collective health goals” are reached. This was done through a range of disciplines, including economics, sociology, anthropology, political science, and public health.

One such journal article was published by Elsevier’s Social Sciences and Humanities Open, looking at five decades of infectious disease outbreaks on the continent and recommending that concerted public health action may help reduce outbreaks, as well as drawing important conclusions for disease preparedness and prevention activities.

Quite critically, the experts undertook “knowledge translation” work, the application of knowledge by various actors to deliver the benefits of global and local innovations in strengthening health systems and improving health.

“In the African context, knowledge translation generally includes an aspect of localization, considering local perspectives and approaches and the effects of the social, cultural, political, environmental, and health system context on an intervention’s impact,” the experts explain.

In 2023, the UCN Cluster translated and localized several global knowledge products for use in Africa, including one on oral diseases, a malady suffered by about 44 percent of the population in the region.

Africa, the document observes, has experienced the “steepest rise globally in oral diseases over the last three decades,” even as spending on treatment costs remains “extremely low,” thus the need to share the newest information on their management.

Away from scientific research, the report reveals that Mauritius became the first country in Africa to fully implement WHO’s package of tobacco control measures, while at the same time WHO-Africa launched an initiative to support better access to breast and cervical cancer detection, treatment, and care services in Côte d’Ivoire, Kenya, and Zimbabwe.

Equally important, WHO Africa, in collaboration with Nigerian authorities, introduced the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccine into routine immunization schedules, targeting more than 7 million girls, the largest number in a single round of HPV vaccination in Africa.

Success stories emerged in Algeria, which successfully ‘interrupted’ the transmission of schistosomiasis after reporting zero indigenous cases for the past three years, in January 2024, and in Cape Verde, which became the third country to be certified as malaria-free.



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