Speech: Director General’s Remarks at The Afrinead 4th Symposium, Sun N Sand Holiday Resort 3 November 2013

Home / Speech: Director General’s Remarks at The Afrinead 4th Symposium, Sun N Sand Holiday Resort 3 November 2013


• Our Guest of Honour, Vice President of the Republic of Malawi, Rt Honourable Saulos Klaus Chilima;
• Minister of Gender, Children Disability and Elderly Affairs, Honourable Patricia Kaliati, MP;
• Principal Secretaries, Deputy Secretaries and Other Senior Government Officials Here Present;
• Vice Chancellor of the University of Malawi, Prof John D Kalenga-Saka
• Head of Department of Interdisciplinary Health Sciences at University of Stellenbosch, Prof Chikte;
• AfrNEAD Chairperson, Dr Gubela Mji, and all Members of AfriNEAD here present;
• The Chairperson of the Symposium Organising Committee, Dr Levison Chiwaula, who is also Dean of Faculty of Social Sciences at Chancellor College of the University of Malawi and all Members of the Symposium Organising Committee;
• Members of the Press
• Ladies and Gentlemen
I join the Chairman of the Symposium Organising Committee in welcoming you all to this 4th Symposium of the prestigious African Network for Evidence-to-Action in Disability (AfriNEAD). Our Guest of Honour, the National Commission for Science and Technology is very pleased to be associated with this Symposium today and with the Network as an entire grouping. The Commission is grateful to both the Symposium Organizing Committee and the National Steering Committee for recognizing and inviting the National Commission for Science and Technology to this important event. The Commission humbly registers this recognition which will go a long way towards rekindling the Commission’s efforts in the execution of its mandate.
Our Guest of Honour, Ladies and Gentlemen, the mandate of the Commission is enshrined in the Science and Technology Act No.16 of 2003. While it is generally advisory to Government and all stakeholders on matters of research, science and technology in order to achieve a science and technology led development as per section 18 of the said, the Commission’s specific mission is to promote, support, co-ordinate and regulate the development and application of research, science, technology and innovation in order to create wealth and improve the quality of life. The Mission of the Commission has a lot in common with the Aims and Objects of AfriNEAD. Three key specific objectives of AfriNEAD are particularly a mirror image of the Commission’s mandate. These aims and objectives of the network are cited in part as;
• To facilitate and co-ordinate an enabling environment for others to do research in relevant disability related areas.
• To ensure that research achieves real impact within community settings; and
• To co-ordinate and translate research findings into usable and accessible formats to achieve maximal impact to specific audiences
These three cited objectives, Our Guest of Honour, fall clearly within the framework of operations of the National Commission for Science and Technology. Thus, both the Commission and AfriNEAD work from different angles in order to promote and co-ordinate the development and application of research to improve the quality of life. The Commission and AfriNEAD have, thus, complementary roles to ensure that research benefits mankind and particularly persons with disability. The Commission is, therefore, particularly happy to be associated with this Symposium and with AfriNEAD Aims and Objects as a whole.

Rt Honourable Vice President, Honourable Minister, Ladies and Gentlemen, matters of research in disability related areas occupy a priority space in the Commission’s performance of duty. The Commission draws this priority space from a number of national governance instruments including the National Science and Technology Policy. The Science and Technology Policy recognises that Science and Technology has the potential to reduce the suffering of persons with disabilities. Among others, the S&T Policy calls for the adoption of the following key strategies;
• Integration of disability issues into general research and training through the establishment of a forum where researchers and the disability sector can exchange information;
• Development of a national database on disability-focused research that should include statistics on available services and programmes as well as on the different groups of persons with disabilities;
• Development of national guidelines and minimum norms and standards for disability related research;
• Promotion of studies that develop, evaluate and adapt technologies that aim at reducing the suffering of persons with disabilities;
• Facilitation of better co-ordination and regulation of research, science and technology pertaining to persons with disabilities.
Translating these S&T Policy strategies on disability research is an on-going collective effort at national, ministerial and institutional levels. On the part of the National Commission for Science and Technology, we are doing everything possible to ensure that priority disability affairs related research is well supported and regulated. In this regard, the Commission developed a National Research Agenda in the Social Sciences and Humanities. This National Research Agenda has a specific priority section dedicated to research on Age, Gender and Disability. This section calls upon researchers to develop specific research studies that can be supported with funds from the Commission. The inclusion of this component into the research agenda stimulates external funding from co-operating partners and funding agencies to conduct disability related research I n Malawi.
Guest of Honour, Ladies and Gentlemen, the Commission continues to subscribe to the view that disability is not inability and persons with disabilities have rights which should be protected. In recognition of this view, the National Commission for Science and Technology put in place regulatory safeguards against any intended exploitation and abuse of persons with disabilities in the name of research. Recognising that persons with disabilities may be vulnerable to abuse in research, the Commission also developed national research ethics standards and regulatory requirements that are lawfully required to be followed by any one intending to do research involving persons with disabilities in Malawi. Thus, research in Malawi involving persons with disabilities can not be conducted without the ethical and regulatory approval of the Commission through its designated and accredited research ethics committees. There are currently three of these research ethics committees, namely; the National Committee on Research in the Social Sciences and Humanities, National Health Sciences Research Committee and the College of Medicine Research and Ethics Committee. With powers and delegation from the Commission, these committees foster the safety, rights and well-being of research participants. These committees not only review the science merit of the proposed studies but also the ethics merit of the studies. These committees are guided by a number of research ethics principles and common rules that are universal but required to be applied in context, while taking cognizance of our local customs and traditions. The Commission regulates the performance of these committees so as to render them support in reviewing and approving only those studies that are both scientifically and ethically sound. I am pleased to state that the research results that are going to be presented at this symposium are coming from studies that had ethical approval from ethics committees of respective AfriNEAD member countries.

While I am on this issue of research involving vulnerable persons in our communities, the Commission is aware of the on-going international debate on prenatal testing and disability rights. The Commission’s position on this debate is to promote research that does not reinforce stigma and discrimination against persons with disabilities. Decision for prenatal testing against disability traits, in the name of research and science, could be viewed being akin to eugenic practice that could not be tolerated in the wake of the conscious existence of the rights of persons with disabilities. Any eugenic scientific practices have no space in the mandate of the Commission.
Lastly, Our Guest Honour, to ensure that research results are utilized and applied to improve the quality of life, the Commission has planned to embark on a programme aimed at systematically translating research evidence/knowledge into policy, actions and interventions. This will require systematic reviews of all the research evidence from a research a database that will purposefully be created and operationalised at the Commission. The systematic reviews will enhance selection and utilization of only research results that will have the potential to inform policy and interventions, and consequently improve the quality of life of all with a special focus on improving the quality of life of persons with disabilities. Despite its meager resources, the Commission pledges its continued commitment to duty to ensure that its mandate is being executed. The Commission will continue working and collaborating with AfriNEAD so as to realize a common goal which is to promote research that aims at improving the quality of life of persons with disabilities.
Rt Honourable Vice President, Honorable Minister, Vice Chancellor of UNIMA, AfriNEAD Chairperson, Ladies and Gentlemen, Thank you for your Attention.