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Title: Genomics and Global Health - A Report of the Genomics Working Group of the Science and Technology Task Force of the United Nations Millennium Project
Authors: Acharya, Tara
Daar, Abdallah S
Dowdeswell, Elizabeth
Singer, Peter A
Thorsteinsdóttir, Halla
Keywords: GENOMICS
Date: 2004
Abstract: A century of innovation in science and technology, together with improvements in socio-economic conditions, has brought better health, longer lives and an improved quality of life for many.However, the benefits of modern medicine have still not reached billions of people in developing countries. Each year an estimated 11 million children die, mainly in developing countries, before reaching their fifth birthday, mostly from malnutrition or diseases that are considered easily preventable in the industrial world. The growing health crises, particularly in HIV/AIDS, malaria and tuberculosis, are reversing some of the gains of past decades.Average life expectancy is forecast to drop to less than 30 years in several countries in sub- Saharan Africa within a decade if nothing is done to reverse the trend. Meanwhile, in many industrial nations, the average person can look forward to more than 80 years of life. Good health is essential not only for quality of life, but also for the social and economic development that is needed to alleviate poverty, which is at the root of many health problems. Genomics (the powerful new wave of health-related life sciences energized by the human genome project and the knowledge and tools it is spawning) is a relatively new field, but it has tremendous potential to address health problems in developing countries, if we rise to the challenge. This report explains how genomics and related health biotechnologies can improve global health, how the world can unite in a global approach to make it happen, and what steps developing countries themselves are taking to harness these technologies. We see a strong connection between genomics and the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). These eight goals were adopted by all UN members in 2000 in a commitment to promote sustainable development and eliminate poverty in the world. The first seven goals are directed at specific objectives in promoting development and improving people’s lives, including health, while the eighth goal, developing a global partnership for development, focuses on how to achieve the objectives.The Millennium Project established task forces to come up with strategies to help developing countries achieve the MDGs. One of these is the Science and Technology Task Force, created because many of the MDGs cannot be realized without a strong contribution from science and technology. Technologies such as genomics, including DNA sequencing and bioinformatics, once considered expensive, exotic and applicable only to wealthy nations, have been rapidly evolving. Some applications have become simpler and cheaper to the point that they can start replacing older technologies that are used for health care in poorer nations. Such simple and easy to use tests are being developed for TB, hepatitis C and other diseases. Recombinant vaccines, a result of genetic engineering, promise to be safer, cheaper and easier to store than traditional vaccines. Microorganisms with remarkable biochemical properties show promise of being able to reduce pollution, making water safer to drink. The purpose of this report is to focus on the role of genomics and related health biotechnologies as an example of the application of science, technology and innovation to improve global health and contribute towards meeting the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). Genomics offers a powerful new set of tools to improve health globally. The science of genomics is generating vast amounts of new knowledge, which can be used creatively in the development of new diagnostic technologies, treatments and preventive programs. This means economic opportunities for developing as well as industrialized nations. How can poorer nations get more access to genomics for development? Much genomics knowledge has been made public, so it can be considered a global public good, although private companies make use of this information to develop products and services.We need a governance mechanism that fosters a balance between the global public goods characteristics of genomics knowledge and the private goods nature of its application.We propose the creation of a global partnership, the Global Genomics Initiative (GGI), to promote genomics for health.We see this as a global network of industry leaders, academics, concerned citizens, members of NGOs and government officials, with strong representation from the developing world. Finally, our report tackles the challenge of how to put genomics and related technologies to work in developing countries within the next 5-10 years.We feel that developing countries with the scientific capacity and institutional arrangements that allow creation, utilization, adaptation or diffusion of genomics are well positioned to harness this new science for development.We see examples of strategies that some countries have followed to institute learning processes that can help them build their national systems of innovation in biotechnology. The challenge we face is for industrialized and developing nations, and developing nations themselves, to build partnerships that will share the fruits of genomic knowledge, and thus help to build a better, healthier and more stable world.The conclusions of our report follow.
ISBN: # 0-7727-8762-X
Project Number: 101236
Project Title: Genomics Policy Courses in Developing Countries
Access: IDRC Only
Copyright: Joint Centre for Bioethics
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