COVID-19 and scientific research
COVID-19 highlighted gaps in balancing resources to sustain economies and direct funds for research and skills acquisition. There is a need to relearn and close the resource allocation gap so that more robust and effective training is done towards scientific research. A strain on resources poses a threat to research and skills acquisition as institutions closed and had to develop new online learning programmes.
COVID-19 and critical skills
The Corona virus pandemic started with the first wave, moved on to the second wave, the third wave and now some countries are in the fourth wave, which is proving to be more deadly. Some countries have experienced mutations of the virus. The virus is ravaging communities, resulting in very high cumulative death rates, especially in countries that have not yet reached herd immunity. Most countries have thus lost critical skilled personnel, leading to a huge skills gap and hence slowing down research and the acquisition of new knowledge.
The Corona virus has stretched the economies of most African states to the limit as they try to acquire vaccines to control the pandemic and also feed their citizens whose food resources have been heavily compromised. This has had a devastating effect on scientific research and knowledge acqiuisition as scarce resources, which were supposed to cater for innovation and building institutions of higher learning, are now being diverted towards controlling the pandemic. Moreover, a decline in the economies of most countries is having a catastrophic impact on research and skills development as countries prioritize saving lives at the expense of research and training.
Notwithstanding donations of vaccines to most Low Income Countries (LICs), there has been vaccine nationalism, with most Global North countries hoarding the precious vials. Donations have not been sufficient; for example, Zimbabwe needs an extra 6 million doses to achieve herd immunity. Most LICs have found themselves struggling to sustain their economies and provide essentials for their citizens. This means diverting scarce resources to purchase vaccines, which was not originally budgeted for. It seems that in light of meeting this new upheaval, resources that were supposed to be channeled towards research and the discovery of new knowledge have been heavily depleted. A decline in economies has thus heavily impacted on research, skills acquisition and knowledge generation.
COVID-19 and the skills gap
Furthermore, COVID-19 has resulted in a loss of critical personnel and, hence, has created a serious skills gap which is not easy to fill. In some countries, for instance, many health workers and academics have perished, creating a critical shortage of staff to train new personnel. This situation greatly impacts on the economy as critical skilled personnel perish, which worsens the fragility of states as it has a potential to lead to internal rebellion and attacks from external forces. An increasing brain drain has also been witnessed as skilled workers have migrated to greener pastures so as to close the skills gap caused by deaths due to COVID-19.
In addition, the situation has been compounded by some states that have taken advantage of the pandemic to deprive citizens of their rights, for example, the right to assembly or to demonstrate. The pandemic has now been used as a weapon by some dictatorial leaders to restrict the democratic space by allowing their own parties to campaign, at the same time denying opposition political parties the chance to hold rallies under the pretext of violating COVID-19 protocols. Organising seminars and educational symposia for information dissemination has been halted, thereby hampering progress in research and skills acquisition.
Consequently, countries need to come up with solutions through the provision of food hampers to starving families to cushion them. The situation is dire for most families as incomes have dwindled due to extended lockdown periods. Some countries like South Africa are giving food to their citizens as a way to see them through these hard times.
Most importantly, there is need for a serious rethinking and to strike a delicate balance between pursuing other projects and the training of new personnel to reduce the skills gap. In the light of this, some development projects could actually be postponed and divert the resources towards research and training. There is a need for wider consultation and intensive mobilization of resources so as to develop more innovative and affordable online learning programmes to promote research, skills acquisition and durable peace.
Bothwell Mussett Chitengu is a Ph.D. student at Africa University in Zimbabwe. His research specialization is peace, human rights, conflict and development. ORCID: 0000-0001-8313-7763 Twitter: @mussett01