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Published April 16, 2008 08:43 AM

World risks 'scientific apartheid', says top African scientist

[ALEXANDRIA] The world risks "scientific apartheid" between rich and poor countries unless research and technology is better used to benefit the poor, says one of Africa's leading science experts.

Ismail Serageldin, director of Bibliotheca Alexandrina and former chairman of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) made the comments in his keynote address to the BioVision Alexandria conference in Alexandria, Egypt, yesterday (14 April).

He warned that science seems to be benefiting the rich, with not enough focus on solving the problems of the poor. "We need a little more than knowledge... we need wisdom," he said.

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Serageldin called for developed countries to put five per cent of their research and development budgets towards addressing the problems of the poor. He said that even if the research were conducted in Northern universities, this would still contribute greatly.

"Different regions need to address different problems, but all will require the best of science," he said.

Food security is a major challenge to the global scientific community, Serageldin said, with increasing pressure from a growing population and demands for more animal feed and biofuels, as well as the effects of climate change.

Serageldin also called for more attention to public health problems in developing countries, particularly the crossover between HIV/AIDS with tuberculosis, cholera, emerging diseases such as bird flu, and the increasing burden of non-communicable diseases such as obesity, diabetes and tobacco-related illness.

He said it was a "sad indictment" on government spending that philanthropists like Bill Gates are contributing most to addressing the scientific challenges of the developing world.

Jeffrey Sachs, director of the Earth Institute, said that the world needs to run on two scientific tracks: putting existing technologies into practice for the poor, whilst simultaneously developing new technologies to address problems.

Addressing the conference by video message on 13 April, he outlined the need for "RDD&D" — research, development, demonstration and diffusion of technology to those who need them most.

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