Ms Seipati Mokhosi, an Accelerated Academic Development Programme lecturer in the School of Life Sciences, attended an event in Kenya designed to link scientists across the African continent and establish a network for responsible science.
The two-day meeting held at Kilaguni Serena Safari Lodge led to the founding of the Network of African Scientists for Biosafety, Biodiversity, and Health (NASBIOH), known as the Réseau des Scientifiques Africains pour la Sécurité Biologique, la Biodiversité et la Santé (ReSABS) in French.
Initiated by the African Centre for Biodiversity (ACB)’s Executive Director, Ms Mariam Mayet in 2019 after recognising that young African scientists are at the heart of innovation, knowledge creation and therefore a powerful resource for change, the event provided a platform for African scientists and community security organisations to connect and formalise the NASBIOH. The programme included discussions on science, politics, power, technology, food, agriculture, healthcare, genomics, policy and regulation, technologies and human rights, and genetic modification.
‘The aim is to establish a network of African biodiversity and health scientists on the continent who are concerned about this and who will set the agenda and build a repository of science done in Africa over decades to preserve Africa’s greatest source of strength and wealth: her biodiversity,’ said Mayet.
‘One of the main issues related to the growing and emerging trends has been the use of genetic editing tools and techniques on the continent, and how responsive corporate science and scientists are to the current issues of Africa,’ said Mokhosi.
This includes assessing African needs beyond low-cost and mass production scaling in market feasibility analyses and ensuring that the technology needs of small-scale African farmers are ranked in the assessment criteria.
These discussions arose from the ACB’s work with civil society and non-governmental organisations on biosafety issues. These organisations have called for more local research on concepts brought into Africa from abroad for testing, such as genetically-engineered mosquitoes and genetically modified seeds.
Mokhosi said the network’s mission is to support the influence, dissemination, and promotion of science that benefits Africans at multiple scales. Furthermore, NASBIOH is committed to being proactive in setting Africa’s research mandate and managing research activities with data analytics capacity being brought onto the continent. This includes recording experiments for monitoring and accessibility of information. The network’s approach would be evidence-based while considering responsible approaches to science and the ethics of research in Africa by working with civil society and creating room for debate.
‘This sense of dialogue between scientists in Africa should be an agency. We have such diverse strengths on this continent, but we need to be conversing with one another,’ said Mokhosi.
‘The meeting and network have taken an African-centric approach recognising that Africa has what it needs to solve its own challenges – thanks to its resources, environment and people.’
Mokhosi believes initiatives like NASBIOH are suited to UKZN’s goals in building African scholarship to ensure that the continent is on the cutting-edge of science and can develop its own resources, expertise, knowledge and capacity.
‘By improving African scholarship and academic freedom, we can move the agenda forward with a clear, united mandate benefitting the wellness, health, and preservation of African biodiversity,’ she said.
Having always been passionate about researching brain disorders and pursuing an academic career, Mokhosi’s research for her PhD involves the use of inorganic nanoparticles in crossing the blood-brain barrier for neuro-therapy for gene delivery. It is her long-term goal to establish an interdisciplinary neuroscience research unit, and she hopes to further expand her knowledge of this complex field by working with NASBIOH.
In her role as part of NASBIOH, she hopes to explore how science impacts Africa, and how university curricula can align with these issues in order to encourage young African scientists to solve Africa’s unique problems.
Mokhosi said joining this affirming network aligns with her lifelong mission to see Africa freely express itself in its scientific development, and she is looking forward to contributing as NASBIOH builds its resources.
Words: Christine Cuénod