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Safe water is theme of African science academies conference in Senegal

DAKAR, Senegal -- The National Academy of Sciences and Technologies of Senegal is hosting the third annual conference of the African Science Academy Development Initiative (ASADI), a 10-year effort to boost the ability of African academies to provide their nations with evidence-based advice. The conference, which runs from Nov. 12-15, will focus on the value of this advice in informing decisions about how to improve access to usable water. ASADI is administered by the U.S. National Academies and funded by a grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

"We are proud and honored to host the third annual ASADI conference, which we hope will build on the earlier conferences to provide a new point of departure in the strengthening of the capacity of science academies in Africa," said Souleymane Niang, president of the Senegalese academy, announcing the conference.

Several science academies have been established in sub-Saharan Africa in recent decades, although many do not have the capacity to significantly influence public policy and discourse. "The lack of progress in many developing countries can be traced back to the limited and ineffective use of science and technology to prompt and guide economic development," stated Niang, who added, "Senegal is no exception."

Among its goals, ASADI seeks to bolster the relationship between the African academies and their respective governments and media, and to strengthen the infrastructure of individual academies so that they can hold events such as symposia and workshops and produce the type of independent, peer-reviewed reports that are the cornerstone of science academies around the world. Indeed, with ASADI support, the science academies of Uganda, Nigeria, and South Africa have held workshops and issued -- or are about to issue -- reports on such subjects as malaria, blood safety, child mortality, and the relationship between nutrition and HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis.

The Senegalese academy also is having an impact. "Since our establishment in 1999, we have been at the forefront of applying science and technology to the quest for solutions to the numerous health, poverty, energy, environmental, and other challenges facing our country and sub-Saharan Africa," Niang noted. "At the national level, the Senegalese academy has initiated a number of studies and stimulated debates on key issues, leading to recommendations for policymakers. At the international level, we have been very active with the InterAcademy Panel [a network of the world's science academies], the Network of African Sciences Academies, as well as ASADI."

Attendees at this year's ASADI conference will discuss workshops and studies that could be conducted by the African science academies to inform water-related policy decisions. Globally, a lack of safe water for drinking, sanitation, and hygiene contributes to the deaths of about 88 percent of the 1.5 million children under age 5 who die due to diarrhea every year, according to the United Nations. The problem is particularly stark in sub-Saharan Africa, where the number of people without access to sanitation has increased in recent years despite the U.N. Millennium Development Goal to halve by 2015 the proportion of the population without safe drinking water and sanitation.

"With water becoming an increasingly scarce resource worldwide, academies of science have an essential role in generating the evidence base that can guide wise policies to maximize benefits to human health and the environment," said Enriqueta C. Bond, president of the Burroughs Wellcome Fund, Research Triangle Park, N.C., and chair of the U.S. National Academies' Board on African Science Academy Development. "This meeting in Dakar brings together science academies from across Africa to discuss not just water science, but also how to organize and develop their capacities to address the concerns of their countries."


Contact: Bill Kearney
The National Academies

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