The triple challenges of poverty, unemployment and inequality continues to weigh heavily on the country development as well as that of the Continent, in spite of widespread progress by Governments. But strategic partnership initiatives has been recognized to be instrumental in tackling these challenges.

One such initiative is the Southern African Network for Biosciences (SANBio), a New Partnership for Africa Development (NEPAD) Agency Flagship for collaborative research, development and innovation aimed at addressing Southern Africa's challenges in health and nutrition. Launched in 2005, it is one of the five Networks under the Consolidated Plan of Action for Science and Technology (African Biosciences Initiative).

The Network is comprised of 12 of the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) Member States and operates on a Regional Hub (The CSIR in South Africa) and Country Nodes model. The current SANBio Member States are Angola, Botswana, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Lesotho, South Africa, Seychelles, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Its main objective is to develop capacity of countries in the region, in the area of biosciences and to bring innovative bioscience related products to the market, to eradicate poverty and achieve sustainable development.

The Southern African chapter is funded by the Finnish-Southern African Partnership Programme to strengthen the Southern African Network for Biosciences (BioFISA II Programme).

This week saw the hosting of the two-day annual NEPAD SANBio/BioFISA II event in Boksburg on the East Rand. This year’s meeting focused on emerging trends in human and animal health and nutrition, key regulatory issues, industry engagement with regulators, as well as key challenges for medical devices and the diagnostic sector. Other discussion items included trends in medical technology, innovation, regional manufacturing and issues regarding supply-chain integrity.

Addressing the opening event on Tuesday, Department of Science and Technology Deputy Director-General for International Cooperation and Resources, Daan du Toit, said strategic initiatives between Africa and countries like Finland is important as it could address those pressing issues of poverty, inequality and unemployment on the Continent. He said that science could not progress without these collaborative efforts, which allowed countries to share experiences, expertise and knowledge.

“With partnerships, we are able to leverage resources and use science, technology and innovation to add improve society. For this reason, this event must communicate success stories about BIOFISA and also what needs to be improved,” he said.

The Finnish Minister Counsellor Anne Saxen said Finland had recognised the importance of creating instruments enabling co-creating innovation and business models that extend between rich and low-income countries.

“The BioFISA Programme is a great example of such an initiative where research innovation and entrepreneurs are encouraged to collaborate and work together to curb societal challenges. I am particularly proud of the way the Programme combines collaborated research and commercialization of research products,” said Ms Saxen.

The two-day event also saw the launch of the BioFISA Women Bioscience Entrepreneurs competition. The competition will see the hosting of National rounds resulting in regional finalists who will participate in entrepreneurship training, which will culminate in a final pitching event for successful regional applicants.