Higher Education, Science and Innovation Minister, Dr Blade Nzimande, says the COVID-19 pandemic has had a disastrous impact on public health systems and economic progress across the globe, threatening the gains made in the attainment of the Sustainable Development Goals.
“Millions of people have died and economies have declined sharply. Poverty is on the rise. Inequality is deepening. The gains related to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are at risk, and vulnerabilities and inequalities within and between nations have been exposed,” Nzimande said.
He was speaking at the launch of the 2022 South Africa Science, Technology and Innovation Indicators Report.
Out of the adversity created by the pandemic, Nzimande commended the role played by those in the national system of innovation (NSI), and how they responded to COVID-19 by joining global funding efforts, which led to the speedy construction of hospitals, and the production of medical devices and protective gear at competitive prices.
“The World Health Organization permitted South Africa to establish a world-class consortium to create the first technology transfer hub for COVID-19 vaccines in Africa.
“The hub will play a leading role in the preclinical research phase of Africa's first messenger RNA technology. It will also be responsible for the inbound technology transfer and production of the first vaccines against COVID-19 and other diseases,” Nzimande said.
Turning to the ever-pressing issue of climate change, Nzimande said reports from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) between August 2021 and April 2022 noted the adverse effects of climate change in all assessed regions.
“Extreme impacts have caused irreversible changes to some human and natural systems. Extreme weather events, such as those recorded in KwaZulu-Natal in 2022, are expected to become more frequent and will have increasingly severe impacts,” Nzimande said.
Nzimande said this has enormous implications for South Africa's development aspirations, such as creating employment and reducing poverty and inequality.
“There is an urgent need to build a climate-resilient society to respond to the current and projected impacts of climate change, while transitioning to a just climate future. Investment in innovative instruments for mitigation and adaptation is critical for building a just society and meeting the SDGs,” he said.
On economic challenges, Nzimande said the size of the economy is now at pre-COVID-19 pandemic levels.
“The real GDP was slightly higher than before the COVID-19 pandemic. However, unemployment was at 34.5% during the first quarter of 2022, with black women and youth bearing most of the brunt,” Nzimande said.
“COVID-19 constrained the already tight NSI fiscal environment further. [The] Department of Science and Innovation and [its] entities experienced budget cuts,” Nzimande said.
Nzimande said the number of households living in poverty increased in terms of all poverty indicators.
“Over the past decade, other forms of deprivation, such as a lack of access to clean water and sanitation, have remained unchanged,” he said. – SAnews.gov.za