By Kemo Cham
A renowned Sierra Leonean scientist has called for greater involvement of academic institutions in the country in research, citing its inalienable role in facilitating development.
Professor Ousman Sankoh, the Executive Director of the German headquartered INDEPTH network, urged fellow academics to embrace research saying it’s the bed rock of development and could be a source of financing for the country’s cash trapped universities.
Sankoh also said research guarantees field experience for academic staff, something that’s lacking in the country.
"There is very little here from Sierra Leone in terms of doing research. There are people who go through lots and lots of these programmes without having the field experience,” he said in an interview, adding:“Some bits and pieces of research is happening. So we cannot say that research is not happening. But just that it’s not to the level that it’s supposed to be.”
Professor Sankoh also said that it would be difficult for national programmes, particularly those concerning the health sector, to succeed without research.
The absence of a reliable health and population data has made it difficult for policy makers to formulate programs meeting the need of the people.
In Sierra Leone, for example, birth and death records are poorly kept, if taken at all.
And with a low rate of hospital visits, details of only a smaller portion of population is captured.
INDEPTH, which means International Netwok for the Demographic Evaluation of Populations and their Health, is a network of health and demographic surveillance systems (HDSSs) which provide a more complete picture of the health status of communities.
It seeks to generate credible information about people based at the community level and individual household level.This involves the setting up of research sites at strategic locations and the generation of data which are fed to the relevant authorities to be able to take action.
Established in 1998, and with a presence in 20 Low and Middle Income Countries (LMICs) in Africa, Asia and the pacific, INDEPTH has 43 centers with 49 DHSS field sites. Over three million people are cover in projects across these sites.
HDSSs collect data from whole communities over a period which reflect health and population problems in targeted communities.
This way they are able to monitor new health threats, track population changes through fertility rates, death rates and migration, and measure the effect of policy interventions on communities.
HDSSs also provide information that enables policy makers to make informed decisions and to adapt their programs to changing conditions.
Professor Sankoh, better known in academic circles as Mallam O, spoke to Politico during a recently concluded visit as part of efforts to establish the INDEPTH Network in the country.
He said the benefit of an INDEPTH membership transcends the outcomes from scientific researches. He said their data were also useful for the study and resolution of social problems like poverty and education.
But INDEPTH only assists a country that has started the process of setting up an HDSS site, which is the mission of Professor Sankoh.
His presentation earlier this week, on theme: "THE KNOTS, BOLTS, JOYS AND CHALLENGES OF HEALTH AND DEMOGRAPHIC SURVEILLANCE SYSTEMS," was his fourth, designed to sensitise various stakeholders on the initiative. Held at the College if Medicine and Allied Health Sciences (COMAHS), the presentation brought together academicians and government officials.
Participants were drawn specifically from the Fourah Bay College, COMAHS, Njala University College, the Ministry of Health, among others.
Sankoh sounded optimistic, noting that this time around he caught the attention of the relevant authorities. He said he met and discussed with officials from the Ministry of Health and Sanitation including the Chief Medical Officer and the Director of Health Policy and Planning.
“I am Sierra Leonean. And so I cannot have something going on which I lead and my country is not part of it," he said, justifying his "burning desure" to have HDSS sites established in Sierra Leone soon.
Besides the academic institutions, Professor Mallam O has identified other key partners, including the Kings Partnership Sierra Leone, which is housed at the Connaught Hospital and is an initiative of the King’s College London which is a partner of INDEPTH network.
Sankoh said INDEPTH intends to organize talks on proposal development, among others, designed to capacitate government and private research institutions on how to write proposals to attract funding.
“I have written a number of them that are successful. I have raised more than a $100m for this organization that I head. I am the principal investigator in many of them. So I can come with those proposals that are successful.”
Copyright (c) Politico 2016