October is Black History Month in the UK. I’d bet most science teachers would struggle to name a single black scientist from history. Whilst it may be important to make students aware of the historical contributions of black scientists, I think it’s perhaps more important to make children aware of the work that black scientists are doing today, particularly in Africa.
The film below is one I made back in 2006. It is a portrait of the winner of the 2006 Royal Society Pfizer Award – for “an outstanding, innovative contribution to biological science, including basic medical science, which contributes significantly to capacity building in Africa”.
The film was shot on location in Kenya and I worked closely with Alexis so that he could tell his own story, without the need for an external narrator. Apart from telling the story of an inspiring man, it also provides a useful look at “how science works” when it comes to developing drugs.
In the film, Alexis explains his work on developing anti-malaria drugs from existing cancer drugs – an approach which could bring cheap anti-malaria drugs to those who need them most. Alexis also talks about why he made the choice to work in Africa despite the many difficulties of doing science there.
Alexis believes firmly that “there will not be lasting solutions to malaria without a strong contribution from African scientists. Controlling malaria is not simply a matter of distributing bed nets and medication. It also requires planning and research so we can predict what the situation may be like in 5 or 10 years from now. To tackle malaria at a national level, governments need scientific evidence to make effective policy decisions. Without strong research groups, government programmes for malaria control cannot work”.
Alexis has every intention of staying in Africa and “building a team that does internationally recognised work”. However, it will take more than good intentions to ensure that Alexis and other talented African scientists remain in Africa; simply put, the biggest problem in doing science in Africa, like so many of the other problems in that troubled continent, is a lack of funding.