About Science Forum South Africa 2021

The Department of Science and Innovation is happy to confirm that despite the uncertainty and restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Science Forum South Africa (SFSA) will take place for the 7th year running in 2021. The event will take place from Wednesday 1 to Friday 3 December 2021. As in 2021, the SFSA will largely take place on a digital platform, enabling remote but active participation from across the world. (It is, however, envisaged that a small number of events forming part of the SFSA programme, will take place at the CSIR International Convention Centre in Pretoria – according to the COVID-19 safety protocols in force at the time.)

The SFSA 2021 will also be a preparatory event for South Africa’s hosting of the World Science Forum in 2022 – which will take place in Cape Town from 5 to 9 December 2022. The theme for the WSF 2022 “Science for Social Justice” will therefore receive special attention at the SFSA 2021, especially with regard to the contribution of science diplomacy. With our world confronted with the health, social and economic challenges of COVID-19, the need to ensure a just transition in responding to climate change, and the imperative to defeat global poverty and inequality, we are convinced that the debate at SFSA 2021 will be as important as ever.

AERAP sessions at SFSA

1 December 2021 09h00

 “Plant-based platform for Africa’s health revolution”

Production of pharmaceutically relevant proteins is scarce in developing countries such as many in Africa, leading to most of them relying on importation at increased prices, as well as long lead times to receive these vital proteins (Tsekoa et al., 2020). The recent pandemic highlighted the shocking disparity in access to diagnostics and vaccines for Africa and the fact that Africa requires it’s own manufacturing capabilities cannot be ignored any longer. The question then becomes, what platforms are suited to the unique environment of the African continent. The Plant-based system has been proposed as a boon for developing countries and has just reached maturity. It is affordable, quick and easy to set up and scalable. This session discusses the vision for Africa becoming self-sufficient in terms of research and diagnostic reagents, as well as therapeutic proteins and vaccine manufacturing capacity. Health requirements specific to Africa and how the plant-based system is primed to respond to these will be highlighted.

The challenges and opportunities, as well as the regulatory environment will also be discussed. South Africa and Argentina have historically been at the forefront of developments in molecular farming for developing countries. Both countries have a high level of expertise in the area, connections with local research and veterinary centres and focus on region specific ailments (Rybicki et al., 2013). Transgenic plants ultimately offer the most cost effect strategy to address the issue of global access to healthcare. This is due to the economy of scale and low technical and scientific expertise required, the medicines could be home grown by local farmers (Paul et al., 2013). A ‘Boon’ is defined as ‘a timely benefit: blessing’ and this definitely applies to the fit between plant molecular pharming (PMP) and developing nations such as most African countries, India and Brazil. The timing aspect is ripe-PMP has finally reached maturity as a field and many patents have lapsed in both the technology and many protein products that could be produced. This technology is a blessing due to it’s ease of set up and running to produce various proteins that can improve human health and life, as well as the relatively low costs to do so that make it accessible to developing countries. Key questions are the benefits of the Plant-based platform compared to other platforms, what are the top African specific health needs to focus on and what are the hurdles to overcome in terms of implementing in Africa.

Convened by Sandra Jordaan

Speakers:

Prof Kurt Zatloukal

Prof Ed Rybicki

Dr Tsepo Tsekoa

Francisco Pera and Scott de Beer

Dr Maureen Dennehy

Declan Kirrane

1 December 2021 13h 30

Science relevant for all humanity”

Scientific Research and Digital Innovations must identify and address the problems of most concern to us as humans: How can our children grow up safely? Can future generations be able to depend on planet earth? How can people thrive and flourish by removing obstacles to economic and social opportunity? Leadership is needed and women everywhere are stepping up. What are the policy instruments and decisions that will allow the world to harness the unstoppable energy and power of women?

The UNESCO Science Report 2021 highlighted the under-representation and called for strenuous efforts at government, academic and corporate levels to address this gender imbalance. Women-led Start-ups received 2.3% of venture capital in 2020, while women in academia were also found to receive less grant funding despite being twice as productive. In 2015, across 69 national science academies, women made up 10% or less of members in 30 countries, 6% in mathematics and 5% in engineering. COVID-19 prompted changes in work-life balance and policies must count the “care Economy” where women are the vast majority doing unpaid care work, educators and home-makers.

AERAP Women in Science are catalyzing the movement of women ready to be tapped, and can be harnessed to design future science and innovation policy which is highly oriented to developing opportunities for people of all genders, indigenous, rural and urban backgrounds. AERAP Women in Science can be instrumental in forming and leading the multi-disciplinary, multi-stakeholder teams that are required to advance progress towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals. By prioritizing and actively encouraging the engagement of women scientists in myriad, national and global associations, networks and forums, we can engage high caliber high potential, high energy women to be involved. As voices for the unheard humanity, women as creators, designers and decision makers in the policy development process, are deeply needed to improve science and technology developments for the benefit of humanity.

The session will stress the urgency of having clear policies focused on bridging the large gender gap in science research and digital innovation that we are facing worldwide. We must bring clear measurements for tracking the progress of all efforts underway for improving the engagement and expanding the impact of women and girls in science and digital transformation of countries underway post-Covid. Several initiatives and examples will be presented, including the World Summit on the Information Society (WSIS) Forum, the South African case study on women’s contribution to science policy, and the African Network of Women in Astronomy (AfNWA-AfAS). Finally, a list of recommendations will be given to help in co-designing science policies in the future to empower women and girls in science and help to achieve sustainable development goals.

Convened by Mei Lin Fung

Speakers:

Mei Lin Fung

Frauke Alves

Brenda Namumba

Nabla Kennedy

Joy Malala

Gitanjali Sah

Lucienne Abrahams

Mirjana Povic

Priscilla Mukehi

Carla Sharpe

1 December 2021 15h30

 “Bio-baking for collaborative science”

A rise is expected in non-communicable disease burden, particularly cancer, in Africa over the next 20 years. Stratified medicine treatment and target therapies promise to ensure better selection and response to drugs and exclude adverse effects, but in Africa the genetic background is rarely addressed as a biomarker.

Good health is a global right and global health can only be achieved through the creation of a sustainable health care system for all. This can only be achieved through application of validated research results based on internationally obtained quality samples and data. Biobanks have long been a foundation platform for good research, ensuring the availability of quantified quality samples and associated data to guarantee valid reproduceable research. This requires the existence of quality biobanks of samples and data from the African continent to ensure that research and validation include the genetically diverse groups that inhabit the African continent to guarantee the clinical relevance of this research for Africa.

Covid-19 has outlined the important role that biobanks can play not only in the management of samples and data but also in the means in which these samples and data are shared availing of their long-standing quality standards.

Biobanks are the currency for representation of LMICs’ populations in scientific research. They can provide populations in these regions with the equitable opportunity for research to include their particular genetic and environmental make-up and provide solutions that are also applicable to them and facilitate research collaborations that in turn increase economic investment, training, collaboration, publications, technology transfer, and health care improvements.

The session will present several initiatives of African collaborative networks to create research infrastructures as the basis for further research and how investment in these infrastructures can advance critical clinical research. These initiatives include: the IARC/WHO-driven Biobank and Population Cohort Network (BCNet); the current WHO/LSHTM-driven work on the ethics of pediatric biobanking and downstream research in African Settings; the H3Africa consortium; and the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute educational opportunities and collaborations within Africa.

Convened by Rita Lawlor

Speakers:

Dr. Rita Lawlor

Declan Kirrane

Dr Zisis Kozlakidis

Prof. Vikash Sewram

Alice Matimba

Prof. Moses Joloba

2 December 2021 13h30

“The role for Africa in data regulations globally”

This session will consider how emerging regulations in data protection, medical devices and in-vitro diagnostics influence cooperation between Africa and the European Union. The session will focus on the European General Data Protection regulation and its influence on the Global stage. Given that its scope already extends beyond the borders of the European Union, it is arguably becoming the template for global legislation.

Therefore, the session is designed to impart up-to-date information on the European Union’s GDPR; to look specifically at related research collaboration between South Africa and African and the European Union and the impact of the GDPR on those research activities, in particular in the area of health. The meeting will also raise awareness of the emergence globally of data protection regulations and related future developments in South Africa and more generally in the continent of Africa. The GDPR also addresses the transfer of personal data outside the EU, including to African nations. The GDPR aims to give control to individuals over their personal data, to ensure the free flow of personal data between Member States and to simplify the regulatory environment for international business by unifying the regulation within the EU.

Because research involving human health, drug safety and clinical trials requires the processing of personal data, the GDPR has posed particular challenges to the research sector both within the EU and elsewhere. As the “Africa Initiative” is an integral part of the first Work Programme for 2021-2022 of the recently adopted “Horizon Europe”, it is important to consider how African Nations address should compliance and prepare for future data protection regulations in Africa.

Convened by Declan Kirrane

Speakers:

Susan Veldsman

Kurt Zatloukal

Rita Lawlor

Robin Frears

Lydia Kline

Professor Jeffrey