CAPRISA organizes Durban chapter of the international March for Science

30 April 2017

CAPRISA staff joined tens of thousands of scientists in a global March for Science on 22 April, Earth Day, led by stalwarts of the fight for a healthier South Africa and leading AIDS scientists: Professor Quarraisha Abdool Karim CAPRISA Associate Scientific Director, Professor Glenda Gray President of the South African Medical Research Council and Professor Jerry Coovadia of MatCH.

The march started with interactive engagement with members of the public outside the Durban City Hall and ended at the Gugu Dlamini Park, where participants remained for an hour interacting with science exhibits.

Also present at the march were the MEC for Human Settlements Mr Ravi Pillay, Ms Linda Dlamini of the provincial department of health, Ms Bessie Mchunu from the Department of Science and Technology and recent medical graduate Dr Bonginkosi Mfuze.

The marchers carried signs that read ‘Science saves lives’, ‘Science unites’ and ‘Science is in our genes’.

Co-organisers of the march were the South African Medical Research Council, the University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN) and the Africa Health Research Institute (AHRI). It aimed to draw attention to how South African scientists, and those based in KwaZulu-Natal in particular, have made the world a better place for all who live in it.

“Investing in research and development is about investing in the citizens of our country. Science changes lives, shifts paradigms of thought and promotes innovative economic progress”, said Professor Glenda Gray, President of the SAMRC.

Scientists aren’t always recognized for their contributions to society, said Quarraisha Abdool Karim. “We all benefit in some way or the other in the products of science, innovation and technology, but don’t often stop to reflect on how these come to be in society and what innovation and discovery led to it.” The march was an opportunity for scientists to stand up and proudly share their research.

The idea behind the March for Science originated in the United States, where science budgets and evidence-based policymaking are facing pressure under Donald Trump’s administration. The main march was held in Washington.

For example, Trump has said he wants to dismantle the Fogarty International Center entirely—an agency which CAPRISA and other South African health research institutions have relied on for support for many years. The Columbia University-southern African Fogarty AIDS Training Programme has been critical for building the science base in southern African for the past 20 years. This programme has enabled several HIV and TB research institutions and centres to be established including CAPRISA.

     Although South Africa’s government is funding more science than it used to, a claw-back of the US support through NIH and other US Federal agencies could harm the country’s ability to strengthen its own science capacity, says Quarraisha Abdool Karim. Science is a long-term endeavour, she says: “It takes about a decade for game-changing science. It takes two decades to nurture a critical mass of independent scientists.”

     Marches took place in over 500 cities worldwide, including Seoul in Korea, Cambridge in the UK, Mexico City in Mexico, and Washington DC in the US.

     “The marches that are happening worldwide not only makes a powerful statement regarding the value of scientists and scientific research, but it also provides an opportunity to unite researchers globally in promoting the intrinsic value of evidence based policy making and decision making to improve the lives of all people”, said Dr Albert van Jaarsveld, Vice-Chancellor UKZN.

     “The March being held on Earth Day was an additional reminder that we are one planet and one people. There is no Planet B, so we have to look after and preserve what we have,” said Quarraisha Abdool Karim.