Support needed for research
There was ringing confirmation this week that the University of the West Indies (UWI) at Mona remains the region's lead research institution and is still deeply committed to research.
Universities outfitted with agile minds provide an independent environment and infrastructure for research that is not usually biased towards a desired outcome. New knowledge, as the product of research, is one of the great rewards of investing in these projects. And, eventually, this research can be developed into solutions to address some of the challenges that confront the nation.
For three days, Monday to Wednesday, faculty and graduate students placed on display more than 100 exhibits demonstrating groundbreaking research into a complexity of issues as diverse as skin-bleaching and the use of nutritional supplements to treat cocaine addiction.
The professionals who drive research, including chemists, biologists and psychologists, continue to affirm that the best way to enhance the capacity of a nation, large or small, is by creating a strong culture of research.
Jamaica is considered a biological hotspot with its unique collection of flora and fauna. Recent remedies using indigenous plants like guinea hen weed, moringa and soursop aptly demonstrate the untapped potential of many of the island's natural resources.
It is a fact that many sick people around the region harbour great hopes that scientists at the UWI will one day develop new preventions, treatments and cures to improve their lives and enable them to better cope with their illnesses.
However, with a mere eight per cent of its budget allocated to research, it is obvious that only a limited number of issues can be tackled by the institution. "If we can do so much with eight per cent, imagine what we could do with more," reflected Professor Ishenkumba Kahwa at the opening ceremony on Monday.
Lack of funding and limited interest in research could have the negative effect of driving away some of the brightest scientific minds from career opportunities in research into more lucrative areas such as finance and commerce.
There is an urgent imperative for policymakers and the private sector to give tangible support to research projects and accord research the priority it deserves.
Take an institution like the National Health Fund. Patients are understandably grateful that their medication is being subsidised by the Fund. However, if the Fund were to partner more with the UWI to advance research into some of the lifestyle diseases that affect so many Jamaicans, not only would this result in improving the nation's health, it would also reduce the amount of money the Fund spends on subsidising medicines.
We submit that the UWI itself should develop a system that strengthens meaningful public support for its research efforts. Certainly, by staging this three-day research exposition, the UWI delivered a powerful message to prospective investors by inviting them to support its efforts.
If government is to deliver quality, affordable health care to its people, it is absolutely essential that research and innovation be treated as priority areas. By so doing, the future will be one in which we may be able to reduce the social, economic and human cost of debilitating diseases such as cancer, diabetes, heart conditions and hypertension.