In his presentation at the ARC Academic Forum meeting in November 2020, Dr Temidayo Akenroye of Liverpool John Moores University explored some of the challenges, lessons, and opportunities that have emerged for academia in Africa because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The extraordinary events of 2020 re-emphasised the need for agility and adaptability in global healthcare. Although academia has played a significant role in supporting innovation in healthcare over time, Akenroye argued that African academia was ill-prepared to quickly respond to the shifting demands occasioned by the health emergency due to the pandemic.
In his presentation, Dr Akenroye opined that most academics in Africa have overtime taken a somewhat reactive rather than a proactive approach when responding to public health challenges in Africa. This has been exacerbated by reactionary requests from governments. He added that, despite Africa having sufficient talent and structures to produce local solutions to some of the acute needs arising from the pandemic, there is still a long way in ensuring this sector makes marked contributions. As such, there is a need to address outstanding challenges including policy, financing, and regional integration to realise more from research in Africa. However, there was a glimmer of hope witnessed during the pandemic that demonstrates the capacity to provide solutions to emerging societal needs. For instance, universities and academic institutions contributed to face-masks production in Kenya, sanitiser manufacturing in Nigeria, and the development of a ventilator prototype in East Africa. Unfortunately, the latter case has not gained traction because of inadequate advocacy. These successes and many others can be taken forward.
Despite this, Dr Akenroye highlighted that this experience has given academia a meaningful opportunity to assess and reimagine its approach to supporting healthcare in Africa: “This is a call for us as academics to begin to take a step back and see how we can be more relevant.”
Governments should also tap into the knowledge within African academic institutions and build robust engagement platforms to help address pandemic challenges that are beyond health. This effort should include universities and academics to develop closer relationships with governments and the private sector to better understand their needs and pain points so that Africa’s research responds to the needs of today and the future. Additionally, academics need to be mindful of showing the savings and scalability of the research work, especially in responding to societal needs. Dr Akenroye also cautioned that where viable models from Western academic institutions are incorporated into solutions on the continent, African academics need to play a role in critiquing and contextualising them for African realities.
Some specific research opportunities which Dr Akenroye highlighted include but not limited to understanding how to optimise cross-border collaboration in Africa; cultivating evidence-based policymaking; and exploring consulting opportunities with development partners and global health institutions. In conclusion, he indicated that these shifts would make Africa researchers and academia more responsive to the needs of society, including in healthcare delivery and access in Africa.
ARC believes it is time to enhance research and knowledge-sharing forums based in Africa to respond to challenges on the continent. In line with this, and to further enhance public health supply chain research discourse in Africa, ARC’s Academic Forum helps bring focus to public health supply chain challenges and serves as a link to academic institutions for African governments, international actors, and vice versa. To find out more about the forum, download our credential here.
Dr Akenroye is a senior lecturer at Liverpool John Moores University. He is an expert in supply chain matters having worked at the UK’s National Health Service (NHS) for about 15 years focusing on supply chain and procurement activities. He also an ARC Research Advisory Panel member.