Sir Jeremy Farrar, Chief Scientist at the World Health Organization (WHO), has told SciDev.Net in an exclusive opinion piece interview that better data is crucial for treating infectious diseases as well as heart disease, cancer, and mental health.

Dr Farrar said investments in scientific systems are vital – particularly in increasingly affected low-and middle-income countries – to build upon two approved vaccines against malaria and a potential new vaccine for tuberculosis in the next decade.

Ogechi Ekeanyanwu and Julien Chongwang, from SciDev.Net’s global desk, interviewed Dr Farrar at INGSA2024 – the conference of the International Network for Governmental Science Advice – which was held in Kigali, Rwanda.

Firm “science base” is needed

The Chief Scientist told SciDev.Net that a firm “science base” is needed to build further evidence to take on the health challenges of the world to keep the momentum going on recent vaccine successes.

Dr Farrar said, “There is much more evidence generated now in many different countries. Is it where it should be? No. And it will continue to develop.

“For instance, we have two malaria vaccines now – this is all from evidence from Africa, some evidence from India. Same will be true for TB vaccines, treatment of malaria, dengue fever: all the evidence comes from Asia, from Africa, from Central and South America.

“I think that’s a reflection of the fact that governments are now investing in science. And if we look at COVID, one example of the evidence around the emergence of the Omicron variant came out of work of great scientists in South Africa that made that discovery. So, we have to keep pushing, but I think the centre of gravity is shifting.”

“Not just about infectious diseases”

Dr Farrar added that data is not just needed on malaria and tuberculosis, but it is also required on cancer, on diabetes, on heart disease and stroke. It is not just about infectious diseases, he said.

Dr Farrar said, “In Kigali, in Lagos, in Rio de Janeiro, in Ho Chi Minh City, the so-called non-communicable diseases – mental health, cardiovascular disease, cancer – are now very common.

“For the countries’ own scientific future, [we need] more investment in science, as Rwanda is doing, as Nigeria is doing, as South Africa is doing, as Kenya is doing, as many countries are doing, and I think that shift is happening.”

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You can read the full interview with Dr Jeremy Farrar, Chief Scientist at the World Health Organization, in the opinion piece ‘Q&A: Centre of gravity shifting on data – WHO’s Farrar’ here.

Additional information

Main image: Sir Jeremy Farrar, Chief Scientist at the World Health Organization (Credit: SciDev.Net).