Thu, Aug 20, 2015 - Page 9 News List

Local innovation is critical to finding solutions to local problems

By Muhammad Hamid Zaman

As people learn more about the threat from substandard and counterfeit medicines, it is becoming clear that it is a far greater problem than previously thought. It is also a scourge that is most acutely felt in developing countries, where fake and low-quality pharmaceuticals kill more than 500,000 people per year and affect millions more by contributing to the emergence of diseases that are resistant to existing treatments.

Compounding the problem is the approach taken by policymakers in the developing world, who are far more likely to look for solutions abroad than at home. This shortsightedness is a grave mistake that impedes innovation and progress. When it comes to tackling high-impact health challenges like the proliferation of fake or inferior drugs, local solutions and local innovations are not only likely to be central to any successful effort, they have the potential to provide benefits that go far beyond the scope of the original problem.

Throughout the developing world, but most evidently in Africa, two groups are interested in finding tools to combat the menace of bad drugs. One group, composed of students, entrepreneurs and researchers, seeks solutions that are local, original and tailored to the needs of their societies. Its members are quick to share ideas and eager to collaborate.

While this group has produced some innovative solutions — for example, Ghanaian entrepreneur Bright Simmons is using mobile technology to address the counterfeit-drug problem — many more passionate local inventors and entrepreneurs must get involved.

The other group is made up of government officials, including regulators. They too are deeply concerned about the scourge of low-quality and fake drugs, but they are reluctant to rely on local innovation. In their minds, the solutions already exist, in the form of high-end technology designed and developed in the world’s richest countries. The challenge, for this group, lies in finding the financial resources to import these technologies.

For the leaders of developing countries, the effort needed to create an ecosystem that supports innovation simply appears too great and the return on investment too little. At countless conferences and symposia, ministry officials and government personnel insist that funds must be found to import solutions a la carte.

Research and innovation, or engagement with local entrepreneurs and inventors, is, unfortunately, never on the agenda. There is simply little interest in tapping into the enormous pool of intellect, passion and energy at home.

Officials would be wise to reconsider. There is mounting evidence that sustainable solutions must have local support and local partners; raising funds to import solutions from abroad addresses just one part of the challenge.

Many countries lack the resources to install, operate and maintain equipment that has not been designed locally. As misuse and neglect causes equipment to malfunction, more funds become required or the program simply dies. Not only does this approach fail to nurture local ecosystems of innovation, which is deeply frustrating, it also repeatedly fails to solve the problem at hand.

While some solutions in the area of drug-quality testing have come from African entrepreneurs like Simmons, such examples are extremely rare, and many are developed in the diaspora with the support of organizations from outside the region. For the most part, such initiatives never engage local students. Local curricula do not focus on local challenges or promote local innovation.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top