Commit to the Global South – Editorial in Science

5 July 2023
Quarraisha Abdool Karim
Professor Quarraisha Abdool Karim is President of The World Academy of Sciences, Trieste, Italy; Associate Scientific Director of the Centre for the AIDS Programme of Research in South Africa, Durban, South Africa; and Professor of Clinical Epidemiology at the Mailman School of Public Health, Columbia University, New York, NY

“Vulnerabilities of the world’s least developed countries to health, economic, and environmental crises were recently in the spotlight at a Unit-ed Nations (UN) conference in Qatar. In March, the Doha Programme of Action was announced as a call for the developed world to renew commitments to support low- and middle-income countries in overcoming major challenges.” Quarraisha Abdool Karim

UN Secretary-General António Guterres aptly stated there are “no more excuses.” Such a commitment requires Global North- South and South-South partnerships that harness science and technology and that also empower the South to sustain progress. As a scientist from the Global South who can attest to science’s transformative role in this region of the world, individuals and organizations across sectors and society can play a strong role in supporting such a commitment.

Growing up in apartheid South Africa in the 1970s, I lived through huge racial differences in socioeconomic status and living conditions across the country. Blacks in South Africa and people in the Global South in general struggled to meet their basic needs for food, housing, and health care, and access to education, water, and sanitation. I saw how countries in the Global North prospered through quality education and an emphasis on science, technology, innovation, and engineering. Starting a career in epidemiology in the early 1990s, I focused my research on HIV/AIDS, a rigorous scientific and social justice challenge.

This disease unmasked huge differences within and between countries regarding those who bear the burden of infection. A common thread was that the most vulnerable were (and still are) the most poor, marginalized, stigmatized, and discriminated against populations. However, global solidarity in seeking scientific solutions and social activism catalyzed drastic reductions in the costs of antiretroviral therapy. Establishment of the US President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria reflected commitment of the Global North to tackle the pandemic in the Global South. Africa alone, home to about 70% of the global burden of HIV infection, now has over 20 million AIDS patients on this treatment, with a resulting 20-year increase in the life expectancy of those individuals.

Although collaborations and partnerships in scientific endeavors across borders are important in the short to medium term, sustaining progress requires commitment to long-term investments in building human resource capacity at regional and national levels. Given that 27% of the population in low- and middle-income countries are under 14 years of age, it is time to sow the seeds for career paths across the Global South’s scientific enterprise that are accessible to all.

Earlier this year, I was elected to serve as the president of The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS). Established 40 years ago as the Third World Academy of Sciences, it has envisioned sustainable development in vulnerable regions of the world through scientific solutions

in research, education, policy, and diplomacy endeavors that long preceded the UN Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) framework. Over the past four decades, TWAS and other global organizations such as the Abdus Salam International Centre for Theoretical Physics, the Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World, the InterAcademy Partnership, and the International Science Council have strengthened the science base in developing countries by supporting training and capacity building through strong South-South and

North-South collaborations. For example, there are currently more than 700 TWAS fellowship students working toward graduate degrees locally in the Global South. But much remains to be done to fill this education and training pipeline with students. And long-term investment in infrastructure that supports a growing regional pool of talent also is needed.

In a time of unprecedented social, political, and economic upheavals and deepening inequalities within and between countries, organizations across science sectors must more actively support improving the quality of life globally, especially in the Global South. As member states gather for the mid-term review of SDG progress later this year, the world must do more than lament the growing inequalities and the looming threats that face everyone. It is important to consider not only who does the science but also who receives the fruits of science if the Global South is to leapfrog into an equitable present and future.

Source: Science