Preserve Global South's research capacity

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Science  15 May 2020:
Vol. 368, Issue 6492, pp. 725
DOI: 10.1126/science.abc2677

The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic is pushing the world into a humanitarian crisis that will have devastating, long-term consequences for development. One of the casualties will be research capacity, and the recovery will be most challenging in the Global South.

Over the past two decades, great strides have been made in creating research capacity to address health and development in those countries most in need (1). This has been made possible through a range of funding sources, including national research councils and philanthropic donors as well as overseas development assistance of multilateral funders such as the UN agencies and bilateral foreign aid agreements. Research institutions in low- and middle-income countries have used this support to improve infrastructure, governance, and human capital.

Now, the pandemic is substantially disrupting funding streams (2, 3). Some institutions are already preparing to lay off or furlough staff (4). If they cannot maintain or quickly rehire staff, researchers will drift away, and institutional memory, relationships, and skills will fade. Although these challenges are universal, the Global South is particularly vulnerable given that its gains have been made only recently. The countries in this region cannot afford to hemorrhage the limited human resources that are the foundation of research and scholarship.

Funders of scientific research, particularly in low- and middle-income countries, can contribute to preserve research capacity. Supplementary funding will be required to cover the costs of the delays likely to result from movement restrictions and deadline extensions. Deliverables on existing grants should be reconfigured to support virus-safe research. Investment should be made in the creation of collaborative platforms to enable virtual collaboration. Finally, new funds should be committed in anticipation of the post–COVID-19 implementation of planned or revised research projects. These changes will help all research institutions, but they will be most vital to retain capacity in the Global South, where the recovery from the loss to funding could take much longer than in regions with long-established research institutions and infrastructure.

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