Why is Africa's Neuroscience Research Capacity Low?

Dr. Ezekiel Akinkunmi FASLN, and Abdulsalam Mahmud FASLN

Friday, 2 July 2021

Even though early progress in neuroscience began in 'ancient' Egypt, Africa’s research capacity in this area has not kept pace with the developments in the field.


The above was the assertion of a team of neuroscientists, who recently conducted a long-term analysis of research outputs in the field of neuroscience, in the continent.


"The reasons for this are diverse, and include low funding, inadequate research infrastructure, the relatively small number of active scientists, and their high level of administrative and teaching load. These barriers limit research and innovations from Africa, and contribute to the ‘brain drain’ from the region that extends long beyond neuroscience itself," they noted.


Many of the researchers involved in the analysis are active members of TReND Africa, a charity co-founded by Lucia and Tom, which supports scientific capacity building across Africa through biomedical training courses, networking opportunities, outreach and workshops.


The study, published in Nature Communications, clearly details the African countries with the highest research outputs and reveals that the majority of research funding comes from external sources such as the United States (US) and United Kingdom (UK).

Meditating on Beach
Covid 19

Credit: Prof. Tom Baden

The researchers argue that local funding is vital in order to establish a sustainable African neuroscience research environment, suggesting greater government backing, as well as support from the philanthropic sector.


The team, made up of experts from the University of Sussex, the Francis Crick Institute and institutions from across Africa, analysed all of the continent's Neuroscience outputs over two decades, thoroughly curating local and international collaborations, research citation and funding.


As 'concerned' scientists, they made a case for a greater support of neuroscience research in Africa.


Though Neuroscience research in Africa remains sparse, according to them, devising new policies to boost Africa’s neuroscience landscape is imperative, based on accurate data on research outputs.


Co-lead senior author, Tom Baden, Professor of Neuroscience at the University of Sussex said one pervasive problem highlighted in their research was the marked absence of domestic funding. 


"In most African countries, international funding far predominates. This is doubly problematic. Firstly, it takes away the crucial funding stability that African researchers would need to meaningfully embark on large-scale and long-term research projects.


"And secondly, it means that the international, non-African funders essentially end up deciding what research is performed across the continent," Prof. Baden added.


On the outcome of their 'brilliant' analysis, lead author, Dr Mahmoud Bukar Maina, who is a Research Fellow in Sussex Neuroscience research group at the University of Sussex said: "We hope it will provide useful data to guide governments, funders and other stakeholders in helping to shape science in Africa, and combat the 'brain drain' from the region."


On her part, co-lead senior author, Lucia Prieto-Godino, who is also a Group Leader at the Francis Crick Institute, said: "One of the reasons why this work is so important, is that the first step to solve any problem is understanding it. 


"Here we analysed key features and the evolution of neuroscience publications across all 54 African countries, and put them in a global context. This highlights strengths and weaknesses, and informs which aspects will be key in the future to support the growth and global integration of neuroscience research in the continent."


Akinkunmi, PhD, a don in the Department of Pharmaceutics, Obafemi Awolowo University (OAU), in Ile-Ife; and Mahmud, a freelance journalist, are Fellows of the African Science Literacy Network (ASLN). 


The fund for this report was provided by ASLN.