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Malaria research must be based in Africa

Organisations supporting medical research in Africa, for example research on malaria, cannot assume that scientific results are independent of time and space. Instead the results reflect the interplay between the research environment, researchers and the study object. This is the result of a dissertation in Theory of Science from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden.

Gunilla Priebe has studied the international research alliance the Multilateral Initiative on Malaria (MIM), which advocates for malaria research in general and the strengthening of research environments in Africa. Malaria research has historically been controlled by interests located in areas outside Africa. This has led to a huge gap in knowledge in relation to the malaria problems that dominate everyday life in those areas where people are most affected by the disease.

Better opportunities for researchers on site
According to MIM, researchers based in Africa have a more comprehensive understanding of malaria and its effects on the population. In addition, a locally based researcher is often more motivated to solve problems that are of considerable significance for the majority of malaria patients.

"Proximity to the environment where the social, political, economic as well as the biological dynamics related to malaria are evident provides the researcher with better opportunities to formulate relevant research questions. If the research is based in Africa it increases the chances of the results being of some practical use," says Gunilla Priebe.

Africanisation brings fresh approach
Gunilla Priebe's analysis is framed by the concept of "Africanisation", which in relation to scientific knowledge production entails two integrated themes: the meaning of time and location with regard to researchers' ability to represent a study object correctly and in a relevant manner, and partly the impact of remnants of colonialism on the production of scientific knowledge.

According to Gunilla Priebe, the study of MIM shows that Africanisation of malaria research means investments in infrastructure, education and improved forms for research cooperation. In such a case, Africanisation will also lead to innovative approaches when it comes to research methods and arguments, as well as enhanced influence from both patient and researcher groups that have in the past been marginalised within malaria research.

Definition of researcher's role
Based on the conclusions drawn from Theory of science study of MIM, Gunilla Priebe's recommendation to research organisations, such as philanthropic foundations and national aid and research bodies, is to evaluate the role of research for development in the same way as other "foreign" initiated development cooperation.

"Naturally more money for research into malaria is welcomed, but if the organisations that support research in and about Africa don't intend to reproduce colonial methods, then these cannot work on the basis of utopian ideals of scientific autonomy. They must also take such issues as the right to co-ownership at each stage of knowledge production into consideration. Neither can they focus solely on financial support or the content and organisation of the research; they must also engage with the political and social effects of research and research support," says Gunilla Priebe.

Title of thesis: Africanising Scientific Knowledge. MIM and malaria research in post-colonial dilemma.
Author of thesis: Gunilla Priebe, tel: +46 (0)31 7865298 (work)

Helena Aaberg | idw
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