4 June 2004

A great humanitarian challenge for the life sciences lies in helping to alleviate illness, starvation and environmental degradation faced by hundreds of millions of people in many parts of the world. What can the scientific community do for those who suffer from poor health and nutrition while their environment is being destroyed at an alarming rate? It is vital that researchers in wealthy countries, both in the public and private sector, reflect on how they can become positively engaged. But on the other hand, ongoing development efforts in third world countries will continue to be undermined as long as the current phenomenon of human capital flight, or 'brain drain' as it is commonly known, continues. A study by the World Bank reported that some 70,000 highly qualified African scholars and experts leave their home countries every year in order to work abroad, often in more developed countries. Moreover, developing countries pay at a high price their dependence, as scientists in these poorer countries have to pay up to 70% more than their wealthier colleagues for identical supplies, as revealed by a recent Nature survey. Which raises the question to what extent we actually 'give to', as opposed to 'take away from', the developing countries?