Whenever I recount my experience with malaria as a young boy in Zambia, I always mention the difference modern medicine has made in my life.
When I caught malaria and suffered from its severely debilitating symptoms, I was admitted to a local health facility where I received anti-malaria medication, which cured the disease within days. Without treatment for malaria, I could have died.
At the time of my experience with the disease, I did not know that there were people who invested in research and development to discover and develop drugs against malaria while others sacrificed their time to participate in trials clinics that led to a safe and effective malaria treatment that cured me. This childhood experience sowed the seed and understanding of the power of modern science and medicine.
Over the past decades, I have had the opportunity to be part of the drug discovery ecosystem and contribute to the research and development of new drugs. More importantly, it has been a passion and a goal to enhance perceptions of science as an inaccessible abstract field, and also to provide opportunities to build the capacity of aspiring researchers on the continent.
As we continue to determine a new post-Covid normal, we must recognize and recognize the urgent need to build the capacity of young scientists in Africa. While the continent has made significant efforts to prioritize education in national strategies and development plans, it is clear that inequalities and inefficiencies remain.
Statistics from the World Economic Forum reveal that currently less than 2% of African students under the age of 18 graduate with essential skills in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM). Technology and innovation continue to permeate every aspect of our lives, which makes Stem important today.
What happens after young people have finished their studies is also striking; among African university or college students, less than 25% pursue stem-related fields to pursue career opportunities. High youth unemployment – even among university and college graduates – is one of the continent’s most pressing challenges.
Current Stem education in Africa faces many challenges, including a lack of teaching resources, underfunded schools with large class sizes, language barriers, and a lack of diversity in learning materials. We need to recreate current Stem learning materials as well as curricula to teach young people about Stem-related courses more effectively and make Stem-related courses more engaging, understandable, and engaging.
An innovative learning ecosystem for Stem-related skills will greatly benefit the growth and development of the continent by building the capacity of a competent and sufficient local Stem workforce that will pave the way for Africa to achieve the global economic competitiveness.
Changing perceptions about the nature of science and positioning stem-related education in Africa as a gateway to economic development could be beneficial in keeping young entrepreneurs on the continent.
Emerging opportunities in research and development, science and innovation can help improve the socio-economic status of the continent. Although Africa ranks first in the world for entrepreneurship with 22% of the population of working age start-ups, there is not enough investment in developing a thriving innovation ecosystem to retain this talent.
Promising scientists continue to migrate in large numbers from Africa to industrialized countries in search of opportunities, depleting the continent’s pool of capable leaders and businessmen.
We must take advantage of every opportunity to identify, motivate and support pioneering young African entrepreneurs, especially in areas such as health science technology and pharmacology. They need financial resources, training, mentorship and opportunities to develop their business ideas and come up with promising solutions to strengthen the health systems of African countries.
We can produce globally competitive businesses that can attract and build investor confidence and result in more employment opportunities (direct, indirect and induced).
The role of African scientists has been essential in the fight against Covid-19, in particular in strengthening the mechanisms for identifying and prioritizing (potentially) relevant mutations, and has been essential in global collaborations around Covid therapeutics -19.
To capitalize on these scientific gains, young local talent must be identified, nurtured and nurtured to build a critical mass of skilled scientists. Better supporting young people, ensuring their career development and supporting scientific entrepreneurship can help move the continent forward. Therefore, opportunities for increased resources and better coordination at the continental level are needed to improve the effectiveness of knowledge and capacity development.
Africa needs partnerships that will enable Africans to become more empowered and a global player in innovative pharmaceutical R&D. The Covid-19 pandemic has demonstrated that now is the time to forge partnerships to increase investment in science, skills development and infrastructure to deliver sustainable and scalable health solutions.
These solutions include strengthening existing networks to unlock the drug discovery ecosystem and build credibility for science. This approach will provide a much greater absorptive capacity to create and expand innovative initiatives such as Stem Beautiful and Stem4Her across the continent and encourage young people to pursue Stem training as well as attract and retain qualified African scientists.
World Youth Skills Day 2022 July 15 should remind us that as we prioritize post-pandemic recovery, young people must not be left behind. As we find tools for the future to protect the continent from further blows, we must integrate the concerns and challenges of youth skills into the political agendas in education, science, culture and communication .
There is no better time than now to sow the seeds of Africa’s prosperity. DM