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ADVOCACY: Swiss scholar Prof. Marcel Tanner calls for action to "decolonize health research, the world”

June 16, 2022
ADVOCACY: Swiss scholar Prof. Marcel Tanner calls for action to "decolonize health research, the world”
Swiss scholar, Prof. Marcel Tanner, gestures as he stresses a point during his talk which focused on the decolonization of health researcher. The talk was co-hosted by two young Ifakara scientists [R-L] Prisca Kweyamba and Dr. Neema Balige. The talk was streamed real-time from the IFAKARA multi-studio at Kingani area in Bagamoyo, Tanzania on Thursday June 16, 2022 from 11am EAT. GRAPHIC | IFAKARA/Coms

Swiss medical biologist, Prof. Marcel Tanner, has called for action rather than just mere words and dialogues to decolonize health, underlining that purpose actions must be taken to “decolonize” not just the developing south, but also the developed north.

“Decolonization has always been recognized in the different cultural systems that we live in and it isn’t a new concept. This is not an issue that has just come up now, we can make an effort of seeing this as a broad cultural issue. It’s not just about ‘decolonizing health research,’ we must decolonize the world as well,” Prof. Tanner said.

The Swiss scholar said this when he gave a talk entitled, "Decolonizing Health Research: The Perspective of Low-Income Countries" from Ifakara Health Institute multi-media studio at Kingani in Bagamoyo, Tanzania on Thursday, the 16th of June 2022. The talk,  co-hosted by two young Ifakara scientists Prisca Kweyamba and Dr. Neema Balige, was streamed real-time on IFAKARA YouTube channel.

Prof.  Tanner proposed “cultural change” as a step toward decolonizing public health saying, “We ought to go back to our roots, know where we come from and the conditions shaping our education and how we do research.”

He further pointed out that decolonization should not be about changing institutions, making diversity changes in leadership or having regulations rather what is needed is a process where people can learn and work together in order to make a difference together – without having to be on either the receiving role or dependency role.

During the talk, Dr. Balige highlighted some challenges facing public health research which include funding distribution and journal publication. To tackle these challenges, Prof. Tanner recognized them as a global issue to which he proposed “cultural change” as one resolution saying: “Cultural change is crucial. If we do not change, founding streams will not change,” and adding: “Change must also start from specific joint projects… alternatively these changes can transform the financial flow.”

Prof. Tanner also spoke about his journey in decolonizing public health research and the success he achieved in the process including his experience working in Tanzania and other African countries for more than 45 years, saying that those who are knowledgeable and have the experience of working in the fields should take charge and lead in the process of decolonization he’s proposing.

He stressed that realizing decolonization required both the developing south and the developed north to work together and changing systems and processes embracing colonization. “This is not going to happen overnight,” said, underlining that mindsets and cultural changes would be key for the world to act together in the decolonization process.

Watch the talk: Decolonizing Health Research by Prof. Marcel Tanner.

About Prof. Marcel Tanner
Prof. Marcel Tanner is the former Director of the Swiss Tropical and Public Health Institute (Swiss TPH) where he served from 1997-2015 and afterwards, he became chair of the Epidemiology and Medical Parasitology at the University of Basel. Since 2016, he has served as the President of the Swiss Academy of Sciences (SCNAT).

Prof. Tanner has published over 600 original papers in diverse fields of study and has received global recognition for his expertise in the field of infectious diseases research and control. In addition to his research interests, he has helped advance capacity building efforts and established north-south partnerships, as reflected in the development of a Swiss field laboratory to what is now the Ifakara Health Institute in Tanzania from 1981-1985.

Prof. Tanner holds a PhD in Medical Biology from the University of Basel and an MPH from the University of London. Currently, he serves as Chair of the following organisations: INDEPTH Network, Drugs for Neglected Diseases Initiative (DNDi) and INCLEN Trust. He's also co-chair of the Swiss School of Public Health (SSPH+).

About the co-hosts
Prisca Kweyamba is a medical microbiologist and molecular biologist with a strong background in drug discovery from products, targeting major tropical infectious diseases like malaria.
She obtained her BSc (Hons) in microbiology and biochemistry at the University of Namibia in 2014. She also holds an MSc in

medical microbiology, immunology and molecular biology from Kilimanjaro Christian Medical University College (KCMC) since November 2018. Currently working as a Research Scientist at Ifakara Health Institute (IHI) under the transmission unit. Before joining IHI she worked as a lab scientist at Tanzanian Red cross society.

She has enormous experience in conducting asexual and gametocyte culturing, phytochemical analysis, transmission and gene flow studies, carry out data analysis, data management and study supervision/coordination.

Dr. Neema Balige is a medical doctor and a clinical researcher working at the Bagamoyo Clinical Trial Facility within the Interventions and Clinical Trials Department at IHI. She joined the Institute in November 2020 as a Research Officer after completing her internship at the Morogoro Regional Referral Hospital. Previously, she was trained as a Medical Doctor at the Hubert Kairuki Memorial University, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and graduated in the year 2018.

Dr. Balige has been participating in the evaluation of blood-stage and transmission-blocking malaria vaccines as well as other non-malaria studies particularly NTDs (Neglected Tropical Diseases) and within her almost 2 years experience, she has actively particip ted in conducting Phase I Good Clinical Practice (GCP) compliant clinical trials. Her scientific knowledge and clinical expertise cut across the spectrum from the diagnosis, treatment and care to conducting advanced clinical research.

She has been actively involved in the implementation of clinical trials which test the safety and tolerability of the vaccines in study populations of varying ages (from 6 months to 45 years). She actively participates in the recruitment of volunteers into clinical trials by participaring in initial meetings, performing informed consent process and acting as the primary health caretaker for clinical trial subjects, providing clinical judgment on their health status during clinical visits, and completion of case report forms.

Additionally, Dr. Balige is involved in the writing of clinical trial protocols, standard operational procedures and safety reports as well as review of adverse events occurring during study periods.