Proclaiming that Africa is the “original cradle of all humanity,” the U.S. government is dedicating tens of millions of dollars to improve the health of Africans by studying their genes and other environmental factors that contribute to common diseases.
The announcement was made this week by the government agency responsible for medical and behavioral research, the National Institutes of Health (NIH). In all, American taxpayers will give African scientists $25 million to conduct genomic research on kidney disease, diabetes, heart disease, obesity and “African sleeping sickness.” The money will be distributed through a new initiative known as the Human Heredity and Health in Africa Consortium, also known as H3Africa.
Largely funded by Uncle Sam, H3Africa aims to transform the way science is conducted in Africa, according to NIH Director Dr. Francis Collins. It will help develop expertise among African scientists, foster collaboration among African investigators and train the next generation of African researchers. This is important, Dr. Collins said, because “Africa is the original cradle of all humanity.” The U.S. must think beyond its borders when it comes to understanding human biology and improving health, Dr. Collins stressed.
Just last month Dr. Collins announced the end of the government’s valuable biomedical chimp research program in order to protect man’s “closest relatives.” This could put millions of human lives at stake because it will forbid the sort of biomedical research that has helped produce life-saving vaccines for diseases such as Hepatitis B. Chimps are also essential in AIDs research and the hope of developing an elusive vaccine against the deadlier Hepatitis C, an infectious viral disease that leads to swelling of the liver and plagues tens of millions of people worldwide.
In Dr. Collins’ short tenure, the NIH has funded a number of dubious programs, including obesity research and the study of African baboon fecal samples. In fiscal year 2011 obesity research totaled $830 million, according to the NIH’s own records. American taxpayers also doled out $1.4 million so researchers could determine, through the study of African baboon fecal samples, that alpha males have elevated stress levels. This is important because it reveals that that a high social rank—long considered a benefit in many animal societies—actually brings conflict and stress that can take a mental and physical toll.