Can the Next Einstein Come from Africa?

Paul Stoffels, M.D., Chief Scientific Officer and Worldwide Chairman, Pharmaceuticals, Johnson & Johnson  

By 2050, two out of every five children on Earth will call Africa home.  Any one of them has the potential to become the next Albert Einstein, Marie Curie, or Jonas Salk. Scientific research outputs made by researchers in Africa have doubled since 2003  and the quality of that research is high.   

The Next Einstein Forum (NEF) is a global science and technology initiative in Africa designed to speed collaboration, innovation, and solutions, and Johnson & Johnson is a passionate supporter of their work. The NEF Global Gathering took place this week in Dakar, Senegal, with some 700 scientists, ambassadors and heads of state, Nobel Laureates, and biopharmaceutical industry and public sector representatives, in attendance. Together we are working to promote global scientific leadership in Africa, identify and foster scientific talent, and ensure there is robust opportunity for young people and women to contribute to scientific advancement.   

My passion to see scientists in Africa recognized as global leaders began early in my career, when I started my medical training in Africa as the HIV crisis was emerging. That experience never left me; my spirit and my heart remain on that continent, and my perceptions of what we should expect from our global research endeavors were irrevocably changed. Africa is changing – development is occurring at a breakneck pace, wealth and urbanization is increasing, and Africans see their lifestyles changing in formerly unimaginable ways. These changes will impact the diseases affecting this continent. Researchers will need to expand their focus from communicable diseases, like malaria and Ebola, to chronic diseases like hypertension and diabetes. New and novel ideas must come from Africa if we are to address the burden of evolving and previously unseen diseases.  

Johnson & Johnson Innovation recognizes the invaluable role scientists and innovators from countries in Africa play in addressing today’s most challenging healthcare problems. The geographic, ethnic, religious, and socioeconomic diversity found across this continent will no doubt give rise to innovation and broaden our understanding of the world around us. We also recognize there is a role for the private sector to play in building the STEM infrastructure throughout Africa, paving the way for us to collaboratively solve complex healthcare issues. Our focus has long been on fueling technology and life science discoveries. Our involvement in NEF reinforces our priority to support, drive, and engage talent and innovative research across the globe.   

I believe that scientists and researchers in Africa have the potential to solve some of the most urgent healthcare challenges of our time, and that, with the right educational and scientific infrastructure, the next great scientist will come from Africa. Let’s make sure she has the education, resources and platform to turn her revolutionary idea into a reality. 

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