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S & T POLICY AND INSTITUTIONAL DEVELOPMENT: IRAQ UPDATE October 12, 2008

Erle Frayne Argonza

Good morning from Manila!

It seems the excitement in Iraq’s S&T is moving to higher pitches, despite the noise and flames of the ensuing war there. The policy environment is getting to be more definitive, and a new state institution is being installed to address S&T research and development needs of the country.

See the exciting news below.

[Writ 06 October 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila. Thanks to SciDev database news.]

 

New authority and law to push Iraqi research

Wagdy Sawahel

26 September 2008 | EN | 中文

Flickr/rxwarren

Iraq is to establish a scientific research authority (SRA) to promote science and technology research and improve science policy, and will consider a new law offering scientists significant financial benefits.

The SRA was announced by Abd Dhiab al-Ajili, the Iraqi minister for higher education and scientific research last week (15 September).

It will function independently from the Ministry of Higher Education and Scientific Research (MHESR) and have a separate, as yet undisclosed, budget. Its exact start date has yet to be decided.

The authority will oversee all of the science and technology centres associated with universities and have the capacity to fund research directly. It will also prepare science policy reports reviewing subjects including best practice for funding research, measuring the quality of scientific research, and methods for knowledge dissemination.

The SRA will suggest educational programmes and provide analysis for the MHESR on Iraq’s needs to build its scientific and technological capacity. It will also provide advice to the MHESR and university science centres on topics such as ethics, socioeconomic impact, health and environmental concerns and intellectual property rights.

The Iraqi government is also set to consider a new law aiming to persuade scientists, innovators and engineers abroad to return to the country.

Samir Ibrahim Abbas, deputy director-general at the Iraq Ministry of Science and Technology and a member of the ministerial committee preparing the law, says a draft will be ready within six weeks and submitted to the government.

The proposed law also offers incentives to top scientists and innovators working in Iraq.

These include increased salaries — currently on average less than US$1,000 a month — of 300–350 per cent making it equivalent to the Iraqi deputy ministerial salary level. Other benefits include exemption from the mandatory retirement age of 63 years and preferential treatment and reduced prices when buying land for housing.

Abbas says the law will reward different levels of scientists and innovators depending on their scientific achievements.

Scientists would be expected to apply for the benefits, overseen by a central body comprising representatives from scientific committees in different scientific and technological fields who would be responsible for the evaluation and assessment of candidates. 

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FANTASIZE ‘SOLAR TOWER’? SEE NAMIBIA September 9, 2008

Erle Frayne Argonza

Fellow of the planet, in case you may be of the mindset that towers only used for telecommunications facilities and military observation posts, the article contained here will make you modify your thought construct a bit.

From Namibia comes a very exciting news about solar towers. This is not just a tower that can supply the energy needs of a village or town, but an entire region. Funding alone would require $900 Million, which is more than the budget for a new 660-megawatt nuclear fission breeder. The added good news to this solar power project is that it is a ‘green’ project as well.

See the great news from Namibians that is contained below. Even at this moment, my adrenalin already propels me for a visit to the project site later.

[28 August 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila. Thanks to SciDev database news.]

Scientists propose ‘solar tower’ to boost Namibia electricity

Carol Campbell and Rodrick Mukumbira

11 August 2008 | EN

Artist’s impression of the proposed solar tower for Namibia

GreenTower

[CAPE TOWN / WINDHOEK] A huge solar energy tower has been proposed to boost the electricity grid in Namibia.

At one and a half kilometres high and 280 metres wide — bigger than two soccer fields back-to-back — the tower could provide electricity for the whole of the Namibian capital Windhoek.

But neither a date nor a site for the proposed tower has been confirmed, though it is expected to be close to Windhoek, says South African mechanical engineer Alan Dunlop from the pan-African intellectual property firm Hahn & Hahn, which is involved in the project. 

The operation of a solar tower involves heating air inside a vast transparent tent, several kilometres in diameter, at the base of the tower. This hot air rises inside a tall concrete chimney, driving wind turbines linked to generators. The tent can also be used to grow crops.

The proposed tower is about three times larger than anything similar on earth and though its running costs would be low, construction would cost at least US$900 million.

“One of the main reasons why commercial solar chimney power plants have not been built is that they have to be very large to be economically viable,” says Theo von Backström from the Department of Mechanical and Mechatronic Engineering at South Africa’s Stellenbosch University.

Engineers at the university say their research — including a dozen journal papers and 14 conference papers — indicates that a large-scale tower is possible.

It has also been shown that solar chimney power plants can produce power at night. The water used for crops is heated during sunny weather and this heat is released back into the air during the night or during cloudy weather to keep the turbines going. No extra water is required — an important issue for a desert country such as Namibia.

Pretoria-based physicist Wolf-Walter Stinnes, the brains behind the Namibian tower, worked on a pre-feasibility study for a similar solar chimney in South Africa’s Kalahari desert up until 2000.

Stinnes said the project was dropped because its power was too expensive compared with coal power.

But given the price of oil and the issues raised by climate change, there has been renewed interest in solar chimneys in countries such as Australia, Egypt, India and Morocco.

According to a report in Engineering News, the Namibian government has agreed to cover half the costs of the US$780,000 pre-feasibility report once private funding has been obtained.

But Joseph Iita, Namibia’s permanent secretary for the Ministry of Mines and Energy, warns: “We are only prepared to work with serious investors and, despite so many investors showing interest in the field of energy generation, we haven’t seen any project taking off.”

 

AFRICA & SOUTH GETS INDUSTRIAL BOOST VIA EGYPT’S INITIATIVE September 2, 2008

Erle Frayne Argonza

 

Good morning!

 

South-south cooperation has been intensifying in the past years. The coverage of such cooperation has been from basic research to financing projects, and onwards to project implementation.

 

In Africa, industrial cooperation and research has been boosted anew with the efforts of Egypt to install an industrial center. This center will largely cater to African stakeholders.

 

The news item is contained below.

 

Happy reading!

 

[14 August, 2008, Quezon City, Manila. Thanks to SciDev database news.]

 

 

South–South industrial centre opens in Egypt

Wagdy Sawahel

3 July 2008 | EN | 中文

The centre will provide technical and industrial support, including training, to less advanced countries

SciDev.Net/Catherine Brahic

[CAIRO] Egypt has opened a US$10 million centre for transferring technology and promoting innovation-based industrial development among African countries.

The South–South Industrial Cooperation Centre (SICC) was opened this week (1 July) to coincide with the 11th African Union Summit held in Sharm El-Sheikh, Egypt, between 30 June and 1 July.

The African Union, the UN Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) and Egypt’s Ministry of Trade and Industry are funding the Cairo-based centre, Hany Barakat, head of technological development sector at the ministry, told SciDev.Net.

SICC is part of a UNIDO scheme to establish South–South cooperation centres in countries that have highly developed technological or industrial capabilities to provide technical support to less advanced countries.

The first centre opened in India in January 2007. A similar centre is to be set up in China, with further centres in Brazil, Iran and South Africa also envisioned.

Barakat says the aim of the centre is to promote South–South cooperation in science, manufacturing, technology and industrial innovation as well as providing assistance to African countries in their efforts to strengthen their scientific, technological and innovative capacities.

He says the centre is a direct action of the African Technology and Innovation Initiative (ATII) that African heads of state approved at the January 2008 African Union Summit held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The initiative will set up five African networks to develop skills and resources at all stages of the industrial manufacturing process, from product design through to certification of international standards and exports.

“ATII aims at changing Africa, which accounts for only two per cent of global manufactured products, from natural resource-based economies towards manufacturing-based economies,” says Barakat.

The new centre can be considered the first step towards the establishment of the African network of technology transfer and innovation centres that will serve the African continent, says Barakat. In the future, focal points or branches of SICC could be established in different African countries.

An Arab network for technology transfer and innovation promotion is also being set up, says Barakat. So far, seven countries — Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Tunisia — have joined. The network will help Arab companies improve quality and competitiveness by harnessing science and adopting new technologies, and provide professional training.

 

RENEWABLES BOOSTED THRU EGYPT’S CENTER September 1, 2008

Erle Frayne Argonza

 

Middle East countries just had a boost with the setting up of a renewable energy center in Egypt. The center will conduct focused research on renewable energy, and is partly funded by the European Union.

 

The news item about the center is contained below.

 

Happy reading!

 

[13August 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila. Thanks to SciDev database news.]

 

 

 

Egyptian centre to push Middle East renewables

Wagdy Sawahel

2 July 2008 | EN

Flickr/dogwelder

[CAIRO] Egypt has established a US$30 million centre for renewable energy for the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

The Regional Centre of Excellence for Renewable Energy and Energy Efficiency, located at Nasser City, Cairo, was opened last week (25 June) at a ceremony in Cairo.

It is supported by grants of US$11 million from the European Union through the European Investment Bank and the European Commission in Egypt, US$9.5 million from the German Agency for Technical Cooperation and US$3 million from the Danish International Development Agency. The Egyptian Ministry of Electricity and Energy is contributing US$6.3 million.

The centre will carry out research on renewable energy, including the testing of solar and wind power technologies.

It will provide consultancy services to governments and private companies, promote knowledge and technology transfer between companies and governments in the region and the North, and run training programmes to help set up technologies around the region.

The centre will also have direct contact with research centres in Europe dealing with renewable energy and take part in formulating policies related to renewable energy.

The initial grants from the Egyptian and European governments will support the scientific activities for the next five years, says Fathy Ameen Mohammad, vice chairman for projects, operations and maintenance at Egypt’s New & Renewable Energy Authority. After this period the centre should be able to finance itself through its consultancy and training services.

The centre will be governed by a board including representatives from member countries including Algeria, Jordan, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, Palestine, Syria, Tunisia and Yemen. This board will guide the centre to promote plans for renewable energy in the region as well as helping the private sector to invest in renewable energy.

Wael Hmaidan, executive director of the Lebanon-based environmental group IndyAct (The League of Independent Activists) says, “If we cover only one per cent of the Arabian Desert with concentrated solar power technology, we can produce enough electricity to power the whole planet”.

Hmaidan adds that the region’s strategic location increases the importance of its renewable energy potential. “Situated in the middle of the old world, between Europe, Africa and Asia, we can supply solar electricity through efficient high-voltage lines to all three continents,” he says.

 

DRUG-RESISTANT TB NEARS END WITH POWERFUL NEW TOOL August 31, 2008

DRUG-RESISTANT TB NEARS END WITH POWERFUL NEW TOOL

Erle Frayne Argonza

 

In the domain of field epidemiology comes a very brightening news about a powerful new tool that can diagnose drug-resistant tuberculosis or TB.

 

TB had ravaged many countries for centuries, and was only curbed for a while after the 2nd world war. But flawed policies and practices led to the near-catastrophic return of TB to near-pandemic levels.

 

The news about the powerful new tool is contained below.

 

Happy reading!

 

[12 August 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila. Thanks to SciDev database news.]

 

 

 

Powerful new tool to diagnose drug-resistant TB

Sharon Davis

2 July 2008 | EN

Mycobacterium tuberculosis

Flickr/AJC1

[DURBAN] Clinical trials of a new molecular technique have found it to be effective at quickly identifying multidrug-resistant tuberculosis (MDR-TB) in resource-poor settings.

As a result, the WHO has endorsed the use of the test in all countries with MDR-TB.

South Africa’s National Health Laboratory Service and Medical Research Council (MRC), and the Foundation for Innovative Diagnostics (FIND) collaborated to test 30,000 patients suspected to have MDR-TB in South Africa between 2007 and 2008. They used both the rapid test and conventional testing.

They announced the results at the opening of the 2008 South African Tuberculosis conference in Durban this week (1 July).

The test uses polymerase chain reaction (PCR) technology to amplify Mycobacterium tuberculosis DNA and look for genetic mutations that cause resistance to drugs.

It is the first of its kind to be used against TB and the first new tool for TB in 50 years, says Martie van der Walt, acting director of the TB Epidemiology and Intervention Research Unit at the MRC.

The new TB test yielded results on 92 per cent of all samples compared with about three-quarters (77.5 per cent) of samples tested by conventional methods. It takes between eight hours and two days to get a result, compared to six to eight weeks for conventional testing.

Patients who receive appropriate drugs sooner minimise their risk of acquiring additional drug resistance, van der Walt told SciDev.Net. Earlier diagnosis also cuts the chance of infecting others.

Seventeen countries will receive the tests over the next four years through the WHO Stop TB Partnership’s Global Drug Facility. FIND and the WHO’s Global Laboratory Initiative will help countries build the capacity — such as laboratory equipment and trained staff — to carry out tests based on PCR techniques.

Mario Raviglione, director of the Stop TB Partnership said in a teleconference this week (30 June) that laboratories in Lesotho, where MDR-TB rates are among the highest in the world, would be ready to use the test within three months.

Laboratory technicians in Ethiopia have been trained, and facilities upgraded, and rapid testing is expected to begin by the end of 2008. Technicians in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Ivory Coast, Kenya, Nigeria and Uganda have also been trained and are using the test on a smaller scale.

The new tests will be phased in from 2009–2011 in Bangladesh, Indonesia Myanmar and Vietnam.

Developed by Hain LifeScience in Germany, and Innogenetics in Belgium, the test has previously been used on a limited scale by researchers and private laboratories in resource-rich countries, said Richard O’Brien, head of product evaluation and demonstration at FIND.

At US$5 per patient, the test halves diagnosis costs — excluding associated infrastructure and laboratory capacity costs necessary for molecular testing. Using the tests will still be cheaper than treating a larger epidemic, according to O’Brien.

The success has rekindled commercial and research interest in creating a test tailored for extremely drug-resistant TB. A prototype should be available later in 2008. 

 

BOOSTING HEALTH RESEARCH IN AFRICA August 28, 2008

Erle Frayne Argonza

The Millenium Development Goal has been seriously reflected upon and guiding the actions of member states of the UN since its release earlier this decade. The target of halving poverty by 2015 is a tall order, as the key result areas for intervention are legion.

The countries of Africa are surely working their way in a most cooperative manner across the continent, via their regional/continental formations such as the African Union. From the continent comes the news about planning to draw a common framework for health research, and the challenge to put them into action.

Enjoy your read!

[06 August 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila]

Time to turn words into deeds on health research

27 June 2008 | EN

An Ethiopian doctor conducting research

WHO/TDR/Crump

African ministers have committed themselves to a set of actions to boost health research in their countries. Now they must implement them.

There is much encouragement to be gained from the commitment to health research demonstrated by Africa’s health and science ministers at a meeting in Algeria this week (23–26 June). At the meeting, ministers from 17 African countries announced a collective commitment to ensuring a higher priority for health research at both a national and regional level, and across the continent.

Improving health in the developing world is one of the key Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). These include, for example, reducing the mortality rate among children under five by two-thirds and maternal mortality by three-quarters, and making a significant impact on malaria and other tropical diseases. None of these targets will be achieved without extensive research into new methods of diagnosis and treatment.

The Algiers meeting was organised as a preparatory meeting for the Global Ministerial Forum on Research for Health that takes place in Bamako, Mali, in November 2008.

Its key outcome was the ‘Algiers Declaration’, a commendable list of 22 actions that ministers agreed to implement before the end of 2009, and intended to ensure that the potential contribution of health research to achieving the MDGs is delivered.

The actions include increasing funding for health research and research capacity-building by African governments, and boosting mechanisms for scientific and ethical oversight of all such activity. The ministers also agreed to “support the translation of research results into policy and action by creating appropriate mechanisms and structures, including promoting networks of researchers, decision-makers and policymakers for evidence-based public health action”.

Communication challenges

Provided these commitments are met, Africa’s health will receive a significant boost. But it became clear from the discussions in Algiers that there are several key issues that must be tackled urgently if this is to happen.

One is the need for better information about the health priorities of the continent — and a clearer idea within African countries themselves about how these priorities can best be addressed through research.

Donor agencies from the developed world — who provide much of the funding for such research — are frequently criticised by African stakeholders for seeking to impose an agenda that reflects the donor’s own priorities. But many of these agencies insist that they would be delighted to engage in a more informed, two-way dialogue on what their research priorities should be.

This means that African nations need to develop their own capacity for setting research priorities. Two essential components of this are adequate information about current research efforts and the development of professional skills among both research administrators and government officials — part of a broader need to develop a robust research infrastructure.

Another necessity is the development of stronger networks to ensure that African researchers and politicians — including particular ministers — communicate with each other more effectively. Far too often, gaps remain between scientists’ understanding of what is needed for health research to be put into practice, and the willingness of decision-makers to implement the steps that make this possible.

Ethical considerations

An additional need is to boost national capacities to address the ethical dimensions of health research — particularly at a time when the activities of researchers from the developed world, including those carrying out large-scale clinical trials for pharmaceutical companies, are under closer scrutiny.

A survey of capacity to conduct ethical reviews in 634 research institutes in 43 countries was presented at the Algiers meeting by a WHO team. They found that half of those who have a “high research activity” don’t have written policies requiring researchers to obtain informed consent from trial participants.

There is still much debate to be had about how the situation can be improved. Nevertheless, it is clear that health research in Africa needs to be conducted in a more ethical manner than in the past. And building the capacity to achieve this must form an integral part of future plans. 

Closer collaboration

A third priority to emerge from the meeting was the need to encourage more research collaboration. The final declaration calls for promotion of equitable cooperation, technology transfer and collaboration, emphasising that this requires both North–South and South–South dimensions. 

But it became clear at the meeting that delegates — mostly African ministers and researchers — had a greater interest in the second of those. They were more interested in how African countries could transfer knowledge between themselves than in receiving knowledge from Northern institutions, a sentiment echoed by Elias Zerhouni, the director of the US National Institutes of Health.

Finally there was general acceptance among the Algiers delegates that none of these aims could be achieved without adequate funding.

Participants broadly agreed that not only should African countries seek to boost their spending on research and development to at least one per cent of their gross domestic product — a target endorsed by last year’s African Union summit — but that at least ten per cent of research spending should be dedicated to health research.

But, as science ministers are already aware, there is a large step between putting forward a wish list and ensuring that those who control the purse strings are prepared to listen and act. The Algiers Declaration has provided a framework within which action can occur. What is now required is the political commitment within individual African countries to turn those words into deeds.

David Dickson, Director, SciDev.Net

Link to the full Algiers Declaration [25kB]

 

PERU’S SERPENT BITE SERUM August 27, 2008

Erle Frayne Argonza

That serpentine fire can burn you or rather kill you. Make no joke about snake bites, as they are among those killers in our planet.

From Peru comes a heartwarming news about a new innovation in serum development to address the problems attendant to serpentine bites.

Happy reading!

[05 August 2008, Quezon City, MetroManila. Thanks to SciDev database news.]

Perú produce suero en polvo contra veneno de serpientes

Zoraida Portillo

24 junio 2008 | ES

[LIMA] El Perú aspira a convertirse en pionero en la región andina en investigaciones científicas para la producción de sueros en polvo contra las mordeduras de serpientes y otros animales ponzoñosos.

Así lo señaló Patricia García, jefa del Instituto Nacional de Salud, durante el lanzamiento del primer suero antibotrópico liofilizado producido en el Perú, el que contrarresta los efectos del veneno por mordedura de las serpientes bótrox (Bothrops atrox.), cuya mordedura tiene la más alta prevalencia en el país.

El suero es producto de ocho años de investigaciones y pruebas por científicos del Centro Nacional de Productos Biológicos, y fue lanzado oficialmente el 17 de junio en Lima. Con la misma fórmula maestra de los inmunosueros antiofídicos, no requiere refrigeración pues es en polvo, y tiene una vida activa de cinco años.

Durante el lanzamiento del producto, el ministro de salud, Hernán Garrido Lecca, informó que el suero está destinado principalmente a los pobladores nativos e indígenas de la amazonía peruana, donde ocurre la mayor cantidad de mordeduras de estas serpientes.

El primer lote, con 800 dosis, será despachado en los próximos días a los lugares más remotos.

Según el ministerio de salud,el año pasado 2.585 personas fueron mordidas por la bótrox. Por falta de atención inmediata, 52 murieron.

Un estudio realizado por Alfonso Zavaleta, de la Universidad Cayetano Heredia, al que SciDev.Net tuvo acceso, afirmaque el botropismo constituye la primera causa de envenenamientos fatales producidos por animales ponzoñosos cada año. Un tercio de los pacientes son niños.

La introducción del producto irá acompañada de capacitaciones a los proveedores de salud y agentes comunitarios de las regiones con ocurrencias de accidentes ofídicos, con el fin de estandarizar y mejorar el manejo de las mordeduras de serpientes e iniciar el registro de casos y uso de los sueros, para adecuar la producción a la demanda, indicó el ministro.