By Amie Sanneh
The Medical Research Council (MRC) on Tuesday, 21 June, 2016 held its first ever Science Festival at the Bray Lecture Theatre at MRC in Fajara.
Meant to showcase the achievements of the younger scientists, the event took delegates on a journey where they were able to explore their research activities through interactive demonstrations and innovative info graphics.
Speaking on the occasion, the MRC Unit Director Prof. Umberto D’Alessandro told the gathering that this is the first annual MRC Unit The Gambia Festival and it coincides with similar events in UK.
“It will showcase our young scientists from our three field stations and surrounding communities in Fajara, Keneba and Basse. These scientists represent the research that is being conducted in our three themes, vaccines and immunity, Disease Control and elimination and Nutrition,” he explained.
Prof. Umberto noted that their duty is not only to carry out high quality research relevant for the health problems faced by the local population but also to communicate and transfer as widely as possible the outcome of such research. According to him, this is important for building trust in medical research. “It should also increase awareness, understanding and promote dialogue with the public about the global benefits of medical research,” he said.
The Minister of Health and Social Welfare, Omar Sey, affirms the government’s relationship with MRC. He said the festival is not only meant to increase understanding of their scientific research and build stronger relationships but to also increase awareness and understanding on the benefits of medical research in the Gambia and globally.
Minister Sey said the objective of the festival is to engage and strengthen the collaboration between MRC The Gambia and other collaborators including the UK government as well as local and international agencies. He said it will also help build trust in medical research by sharing such findings and interventions with the local and international community.
Describing this as the first of its kind and noting the importance of such activities, the Health Minister expressed hope that MRC will consider replicating such activity in Keneba and Basse and assured them of his support all the way through. The health minister said the outcome of these activities help them to improve on inform policy decisions.
Also speaking on the occasion, the Minister of Higher Education, Research, Science and Technology, Dr. Abubacarr Senghore recognizes MRC’s contribution in the fight against diseases such as TB, Malaria, Meningitis, childhood ailments amongst others. “One such priority area of cooperation for MOHERST is research, which is also central to MRC’s priority objective; which is to save lives and improve health in all corners of the globe,” he said.
Dr. Assan Jaye from the Learning and Development Department, MRC Unit, speaking earlier, said the science festival is one of the networking engagements opportunities that will not only provide the young researchers experience to communicate to lay people about science but will give them insight and the chance to build stronger relationship including to increase awareness and understanding of the benefits of medical research in the Gambia.
He gave an overview of research training and development of the unit. He said the research training and support for scientific research career development forms an integral and important part of MRC’s mission to produce highest quality science that will have regional and international impact. According to him, the training department commits considerable resources to support three strategic area of development at MRC which are the development of young researchers in the research development pathway, development of researchers and support competent skills of staff and the development of research leadership targeted to the generic skills needed of early carrier researchers.
Dr. Jaye recalled that in the last five years, a total number of 150 individuals were trained to various degrees or external profession certified qualifications, out of which the PHDs and MSCs represent 36 per cent and 46 per cent of all those trained were Gambians, women representing 36 percent. He explained that currently, they have 29 individuals who have already registered for PHDs and out of which 15 are Gambians indicating that Gambians are becoming increasingly competitive to apply for PHD research opportunities that they advertise. He added to consolidate such achievements, the training department has a renew strategy in which they are targeting high quality learning and development intervention to align with the unit research strategies and needs. Dr. Jaye said from now on, MRC will be increasing its PHD call for opportunities from three to four yearly.