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Investing in health R&D: where we are, what limits us, and how to make progress in Africa
  1. Victoria Simpkin1,
  2. Evelyn Namubiru-Mwaura2,
  3. Lorcan Clarke1,
  4. Elias Mossialos1,3
  1. 1 Department of Health Policy, London School of Economics and Political Science, London, UK
  2. 2 Africa Centre, Stockholm Environment Institute, Nairobi, Kenya
  3. 3 Institute of Global Health Innovation, Imperial College London, London, UK
  1. Correspondence to Professor Elias Mossialos; e.a.mossialos{at}


Global research and development (R&D) pipelines for diseases that disproportionately affect African countries appear to be inadequate, with governments struggling to prioritise investment in R&D. This article provides insights into the sources of investment in health science research, available research capacity and level of research output in Africa. The African region comprises 15% of the world’s population, yet only accounted for 1.1% of global investments in R&D in 2016. There were substantial disparities within the continent, with Egypt, Nigeria and South Africa contributing 65.7% of the total R&D spending. In most countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the largest source of R&D funding is the private sector. R&D in Africa is mainly funded by the public sector, with significant proportions of financing in many countries coming from international funding. Challenges that limit private sector investment include unstable political environments, poor governance and corruption. Evidence suggests various research output and research capacity limitations in Africa when considering a global context. Metrics that reflect this include university rankings, number of researchers, number of publications, clinical trials networks and pharmaceutical manufacturing capacity. Within the continent there are substantial regional disparities. Incentivising investment is crucial to foster current and future research output and research capacity. This paper outlines some of the many commendable initiatives under way. Innovative and collaborative financing mechanisms can stimulate further investment. Given the vast inequalities across Africa in R&D, strategies need to reflect the different capacities of countries to address this disparity.

  • Investment
  • research
  • research capacity
  • health
  • Africa

This is an open access article distributed in accordance with the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 Unported (CC BY 4.0) license, which permits others to copy, redistribute, remix, transform and build upon this work for any purpose, provided the original work is properly cited, a link to the licence is given, and indication of whether changes were made. See:

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  • Handling editor Seye Abimbola

  • Contributors VS, E-NM, LC and EM were contributors to the writing of the manuscript. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

  • Funding Wellcome Trust and NIH provided the financial support to conduct the research.

  • Competing interests None declared.

  • Patient consent for publication Not required.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.

  • Data sharing statement Data generated or analysed are included in this published article, and its online supplementary information files can be found in the Unesco Institute for Statistics Repository ( and WORLD RePORT (!/).

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